Bring Data to Life

When you think of a chart, artistic expression usually doesn't jump to mind: you may picture simple jagged lines on horizontal and vertical axes, or colored pie slices. But Rod Little's informational graphics, which liven up the pages of U.S. News & World Report, present statistical data in a new light. Rod looks for unusual ways to weave images around static numbers, transforming them into visually arresting tableaux.

To illustrate two related line graphs comparing the U.S. economy with Japan's, Rod conjured up stylized sumo wrestlers to symbolize Japan's economic dominance. One wrestler supports a huge cargo box that shows the value of the Japanese yen against the U.S. dollar over 20 years. In the second graph, which charts Japan's trade surplus, another Japanese wrestler swims confidently above the waterline while Uncle Sam struggles below the surface, attempting to rise above the U.S. trade deficit. Double fever lines define the strokes of both swimmers.

Although Rod's illustrations are clever and imaginative, they never overpower or obscure the facts. This helps them communicate complicated data in a clear, powerful style that's appealing to the mind and the eye.

Chart the Data Rod began by plotting the numerical data in SPSS's graphing program DeltaGraph Professional (800/543-2185, ). Rather than using pie or bar graphs, he opted for single-line (A) and double-line (B) charts: these are best for visually comparing trends over time.

Sketch the Design To add illustration elements, Rod pasted the finished graphs into FreeHand, printed them out, and covered them with tissue paper. He then began sketching the figures and other elements around them (B). Once he had a design he liked, Rod scanned the sketch and used it as a foundation for building his infographic-he outlined the shapes with the pen tool on one layer and filled each shape with colors, gradients, or blends on successive layers.

Add Blends To emphasize the wrestler's girth, Rod added a shadow to his belly (D). He began by framing the blend with two lines (E), using the beige tone for the inner line and a medium brown for the outer. He then created a 150-step blend between the two (F). The result was a finlike shape that blended from a dark, hard edge to a light, diffused one (G).

Create Transparency To make Uncle Sam appear to be underwater (H), Rod used transparency. First he added subtle tints of blue and black to several areas of the ocean's blue-green color (I). He then selected both the ocean and the Uncle Sam figure. After choosing the Transparency command (Modify: Combine), Rod reduced the opacity to 83 percent; the figure's submerged portion took on a translucent variation of the ocean's color (J).

© 1997, U.S. News & World Report
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