At some point we’ve all rushed to complete a project. Maybe you pulled an all nighter to write an essay. Maybe you threw together a handful of slides at the last minute to complete a presentation. We’ve all been there. Yet, we all know that this isn’t the best way to get work done. Sure, pressure might increase our immediate productivity, but dedicated rounds of editing and iteration are key to perfecting communication in any form. Things that make sense when we’re first creating content often seem much less clear after a bit of time. Editing and iteration help us identify and fix problem areas. Iterating with collaborators is even more effective!

The same is true when creating and perfecting pictures. Although you might think that skilled artists and designers sit down and pump out gorgeous piece after gorgeous piece, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Like written work and presentations, graphics are improved over rounds of iteration. When creating a graphic, you’ll almost always start with something that’s far from perfect. Iteration will help you refine your product. Through iteration you’ll get to a highly functional product – even it it’s not the next Mona Lisa!

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Iteration example: the S.P.A.R.K. infographic

Final version of the SPARK infographic

You can see how iteration improves graphics in this example from Picture as Portal Science Communications Director, Tyler Ford. Tyler is not a graphic designer (although he does doodle a lot). Nonetheless, Tyler worked hard with Picture as Portal cofounders Betsy Palay and Tami Tolpa to refine the infographic. Through rounds of iterative editing, we got the infographic to the wonderfully useful form on the right.

We initially discussed the main points we wanted to get across in the infographic and set Tyler loose. Essentially, we wanted to:

  • Quickly say what the S.P.A.R.K. course is
  • Display it’s benefits for different kinds of researchers
  • Provide evidence for the quality of the course
Version 1 of the SPARK infographic

Tyler came up with the first version of the infographic shown on the right. While this initial attempt is certainly imaginative, it’s a bit too colorful and cluttered. After Tyler sent along this mock-up, we gave him a more in-depth description of the infographic we envisioned. We also gave Tyler some ideas on how to stream-line things.

The next few versions of the infographic incorporate all of the same essential elements. Indeed, having all of the essential elements thoroughly sped up the iteration process. Tyler was able to create individual vectors graphics for each element. Then he could try out different layouts and positions in all the versions shown below.

3 version of the SPARK infographic improved by iterative editing

Ultimately, we really liked the version furthest to the right. Not only does this version have very little clutter, it also incorporates a path. The viewer is pulled down by the linear progression from small circles to the larger circle.

As the iterative process continued, the Picture as Portal team further refined colors and removed clutter. They also used the principle of enclosure to distinctly separate out each of the conceptual sections of the infographic.

  • What is S.P.A.R.K.? (top)
  • S.P.A.R.K.’s benefits (middle)
  • Evidence of quality (bottom)

Each of these is enclosed by a particular color and border lines in the final graphic. Enclosure helps viewers take in each conceptual piece of information without overwhelming them.

Collaboration and iteration for success

As you can see, the final version of the infographic is a far cry from the original. Yet, it retains some of the core ideas of the original. Betsy, Tami, and Tyler improved it through iterative editing and application of the principles from the S.P.A.R.K. course. The result is a much improved and very useful infographic!

SPARK infographic version one and final side-by-side
First version of the S.P.A.R.K. infographic (left) and the much-improved final version (right).

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