FMP: Main Infographic Development

For this blog post, I will be discussing the creation of a very important part of my designs – the main infographic that will be present on every page in the first chapter about the Solar System. Previous development for the infographic can be read here.

First round of development

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As I had decided on the typography for the book, I converted my previous infographic experiments to match and was very pleased with the result, which confirmed I had made the correct decision.
I have also modified the arrows and lines, as most of them encircled the planet. I replaced most of them with lines that point into the planet, as I wanted to free the outside ring around the planet.

I then saw an opportunity to show the planet’s internal structure, and it made sense to use the centre of the planet for that. It connects with connotations as it is where you would expect this information to be, and it allows for visuals to be used in a realistic manner.

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Stylistically, I progressed from using several vector circles to one circle, where I applied a gradient. This allowed for a better progression between the different zones. You can see in the image below that I have added some text.

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Leading off from the above thought process, clearing the area around the planet’s edge meant I could place information there relating to its atmosphere. My first thought was to create a pie chart around the planet with the text inside it, but this would be too wide, especially as an atmosphere is a very thin layer that covers the terrestrial planets. However, I chose to keep the pie chart idea, but thin it down, and link to it to the text sitting on one side.

This presented the issue of how to match the text to the relevant section of the pie chart. I thought about using the chemical symbols, but then to understand you would have to have an unusual knowledge of this subject area, so in the end the solution was to colour-code the text to create the visual connection.

Instead of the rough vector image of Earth that I used previously, I now have placed in an actual photo of Earth. I think this looks good, but does not match the rest of the vector graphics, so I will most likely change this later on in the designing phase for a new vector object.

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I picked this screenshot out, as this is where I added a temperature bar to highlight the maximum and minimum surface temperature on the planet. As the reader looks through the pages they will build up an idea of how one planet relates to another. Like other information in this infographic, instead of just stating the information, a lot of effort has gone into trying to quantify it in relation to other planets.

Creating the atmosphere pie-chart for the infographic

Attempt 1

As I detailed above, the infographic now features an pie chart. While it would be relatively easy to create vector shapes and place them behind the planet, this would not create a feathered effect to its edge. I wanted this element to be included to reflect the nature of a planet’s atmosphere which gradually fades into space.

This was much harder to achieve, and took a lot of failed experimenting in Illustrator with gradients for me to realise that it just wasn’t going to work. So I went into Photoshop to experiment with a Gradient Overlay, available from the Layer Styles dialog box, and set it to Angle. This worked well, but it was next to impossible to get the segments correctly proportioned, especially if they were similar colours or positioned far apart, as is visible below.

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However, I managed to successfully feather the edge of the shape. By placing a circle on top and adding a Gradient Overlay, set from Foreground to Transparent, and changed where the opacity change took place, I was able to get the desired effect.

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I think the solution to the pie chart segment problem will be to create the pie chart in Illustrator, and then place it in Photoshop and add the extra circle on top.

Attempt 2

I decided I needed to create a pie chart in Illustrator, and quickly came up with a couple of ‘methods’ of achieving this result.

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If only there was a simple way of creating pie charts in Illustrator? This is something I thought, so I decided to research into it, only to promptly find that there was a Pie Graph Tool, and it was right in front of me in the Tools Panel! More haste, less speed?

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Clicking on the tool and clicking on the canvas brings up a dialog box where you can choose the size of the pie chart. I went for a larger size than needed, knowing it is better to scale down than up when placing into Photoshop.

Then it brings up a chart where the values can be input and pressing the tick on the right side of the chart confirms the option.

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Once that was done, I wanted to change the colour of the segments. To do this, I opened the Swatches palette box and dragged and dropped the swatch over the segment for it to take effect. The downside is that the swatches need to be saved first.

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However, this is relatively easy to do as long as the colour you want is in the Fill box near the base of the Tools Panel. Then it is a simple case of dragging and dropping it into the Swatches palette.

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Below are all the pie charts I have created for this project. Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 18.55.44

Placing these into Photoshop and applying the same procedure that I discussed earlier producing the following result that I was very pleased with.

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Then I copied in the finished planet and put that above the infographic and added the axis in. This gives me the final result.

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Shrinking the size of the infographic

As it currently stood, the infographic covered the entire width of the page, and was taking up too much space. Therefore I began to experiment with a compacted version. This first version was a crude prototype where I just removed the right side, and it unbalanced the design badly, so I now know the best way forward will be to continue having the planet in the centre and place the information around the outside of it.

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Creating a vector astronaut to show gravity

To express the concept of gravity, I had seen some diagrams on that showed how high you could jump on each planet. I thought this was a great idea, but felt it missed something. That something was weight. So I decided to state how heavy a person would weigh on each planet, if they weighed 75kg on Earth.

To create the right connotations connecting the gravity figures to the weight of a human, I decided to create an astronaut that could be shown on the planet as well as the Earth next to it.

I wanted to achieve a really simple looking design that would work well when displayed at small sizes. I started by looking online for images of astronauts and working out the base shapes that make them up. It took some time to get the proportions and features right, but in the end I think it worked out very well. An unintended bonus is that it looks great when displayed at larger sizes as is visible below.

The finished astronaut!
The finished astronaut. It almost looks like it should have a personality!

Further Development

In the end I stuck with the compacted design because of the extra flexibility that would give the design, whether that be used for images or text. However, so much development has been made to the positioning of information that there really are no disadvantages of this version anymore.

Pushing the atmosphere text into the top-right corner allowed for the maximum space to list the elements in the atmosphere. However, there are so many trace elements with some of the planets it is difficult to fit them all in. In the end it was best (after asking for some feedback) to class them as ‘Other’ because of their insignificance, which would not hold the reader’s interest.

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Because there was little space on the horizontal, but a gap on the left side vertically, I changed the temperature bar to be vertical. I then moved the temperature values out of the bar to the right side.

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Of course, as discussed in the above section, I included the new astronaut figure as well. Another change was to make the Earth a blue circle (as it is known as the “blue planet”) with a slight gradient to match the style of the other vector illustrations.

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Creating variants to test the design

Now that I have found a design that works well, I needed to test it by trying out information for all the planets. This is because I know not only do the facts and figures vary, but there are also different categories that some infographics have, that I’ve listed below to point out how much difference there can be. This means different amounts of space can be used so I need a flexible design.

  • Some planets have moons orbiting them, some do not.
  • Terrestrial planets have a crust, gas giants do not.
  • The numbers and amounts of gases in the atmosphere vary.
  • The size compared to the Earth varies so its size will do.
  • The distance from the Sun varies so its size will do.

I also wanted to trial the colours of the text and the internal structure diagram to make sure everything is visible.

Mercury and Venus
Mercury and Venus
Mars and Jupiter
Mars and Jupiter
Saturn, Uranus and Neptune
Saturn, Uranus and Neptune

The only design change made at this stage was the colour of the Sun, which changed to orange instead of yellow so it fitted in better with the Sun infographic which I was designing, which can be read about later on in this blog post.

Working in Adobe InDesign

I found I really struggled when I placed my image into the InDesign document, as all the text looked rather pixellated. While InDesign is a bit unusual in how it previews things, it left a big question mark as to whether it would actually print like that.

Therefore, I took the decision to leave out all the text and lines from the image I would be placing into the file (leaving the internal structure and atmosphere parts of the infographic) and then add everything else in using InDesign’s tools, which is a little bit slower as the commands are not as intuitive as they are in Illustrator, but I know this way they will print well.

Design wise, I cleared up the text and layout slightly, making sure everything had enough breathing space. I changed the typography within the planet from the medium weight of the typeface 232MKSD to the light weight, as it was less bold and provided a more delicate contrast than before.

I also made sure the astronaut vector figure used throughout was larger, so that more detail could be seen.

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I also made sure that all the information was correct as it is unbelievably easy to make mistakes when dealing with such an enormous amount of information.

The finished planet infographics (minus Earth)

Below are the finished planet infographics. As can be seen, there is some variation throughout, as each planet had a slightly different set of requirements, as I discussed in an above section. I am really pleased with the way these infographics look, as I have managed to fit a lot of information into a compact amount of space, without everything being crushed together.

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The Sun infographic

The Sun is a different case from the planet infographics, as there is different information to present. After all the development work I have done, and there being less information, this was a much easier process than the others.

The majority of time was spent making sure the illustration looked right. The basics started with an image of the Sun as this was how I could get the corona I wanted. Then it was a case of overlaying a vector circle with a gradient applied over the top. I also added some circular lines in the convective zone that indicates the movement taking place within the Sun. It reminds me very much of the inside of an orange!

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I soon refined the typography inside the planet to match those of the planets discussed above and altered the positioning of the lines to make them look better.

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The Earth infographic

Once I had created the other infographics, I turned my attention to the Earth. This was very similar to the other planet’s except none of the comparison with the Earth was necessary as well, you don’t need to compare it against itself!

This left much more space to use, which went into a more in-depth level of information about the planet’s crust, and actually placing an image of the Moon into the infographic under the ‘Satellites’ section.

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The Moon infographic

The infographic for the Moon was much more like the planet infographics aside from more information about the crust like the Earth, and the fact no satellites orbiting the Moon.

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Conclusion & Next Step

This blog post has seen an enormous amount of progress made on a critical element of the design to the point where they are now complete. This is great and I now need to finish the layout of the pages for the first chapter to fit in with them.