This graphic for WW2 Magazine looked at the US Norden Bombsight – it’s operation and effectiveness.
Designing for the spread
The first iterations looked too much like unrelated pages.
An ongoing issue is designing for the double spread. I'm aware that people will need to orientate themselves in the Whole to begin with - and then look at the Parts in a measured, instructional way if they are interested. They will scan the graphic looking to see how it is to be read and then they will start.
The overall structure of the spread should also make clear what to look at first. This was a bit of an issue with the circular bomb data – it’s place on the right of the composition seems to say ‘read this second’ but it’s shape and compositional strength provide a pull that is arguably stronger that that of the elements on the left of the page.
I am working on a sketching/prototyping style to discuss early ideas around - not too specific - not too vague.
Bill (editor) suggested a good fix of the blue background behind the left page - this united the two pages. It turns out that this is a rule of diagramming - a tinted background brings out the illustration more too. It means that this is more a linked spread rather than two separate pages - but linked by nuanced background colour rather than strength of composition?
How do you introduce a series of steps that pave the way for the grander conclusion without people rushing to that conclusion?
This is a big issue for me as many of these graphics are about the development of the technology as a solution to a need. Ideally I want people to read the introductory context before the analysis of the object/ solution - but if the solution is the focus (larger, noticeable element), they may look there first.
That is why some of the first graphics were many joined, small elements - more like a comic - readable panel by panel. I still think there is mileage in that sequential approach - but it does presuppose that all readers are in it for the long haul rather than flipping through the magazine, choosing what to read based on the overview we give them at the 'start' of the graphic.
The main challenge of the left side was to link the three related groups of information:
1) the Bombsight and its key parts
2) the principles of Bombing
3) the operations of bombardier and bombsight
I first considered spatial mapping to match these elements - this was tricky as the bombsight has a lot of its manual inputs on the right and so there wasn't an obvious mapping. This was despite the operations and principles matching quite nicely across the page.
(this is one of the reasons that Minard's Napoleon graphic is so good - it is very fortunate in how the variables of data map to each other - e.g. the march was east - the same way we read time - left to right etc - more on that another day)
I decided to do this using colour – to match the three factors of Parts, Principles and Operation.
Colour is excellent at categorising scattered variables that have something in common, but not compositional proximity. This way I could infer linkages between the three above factors without them lining up nicely on the page.
Caitlin and the magazine staff were really valuable here – especially in the wrangling of the 'Operation' details. The sketches below show my working out in reducing and reorganising the data while hopefully keeping the (heavily edited and relevant) facts in there.
It took a while to edit each of these categories so that they were not too simplistic.
It was tricky to get the Operation text (colored - at the bottom) to spatially map with the process diagrams - middle - see how the colours nearly line up - but not quite - and not at all with the Parts Diagram at the top.
This one boiled down the Operation text (bottom) as little too far - but I liked how it read across the page.
This way gave me more room for Operation text - but relegated the Sight diagram and segregated the two pages too much.
The render of the bombsight shows some progress in the my draughtsmanship of these Weapons Manual pieces.
A month or two ago, a friend and I were considering working on a comic together and we both had some beers to chat about plots, characters etc – we even met up to do some drawing to test the waters.
I decided that my WW2 Magazine commitments were enough to be getting on with but in exploring some character sketches, I looked further at a Black Line and Fill render that I was happy with. (that is the style of comic illustration I most like – with Brian Bolland is an obvious hero here:
Anyway . . . (and I am by No means about to compare myself with them -haha)
It was during this sketching that I thought that the style of line drawing was pretty suitable to certain parts of my graphics work – the thicker defining edges and thinner inside lines etc.
Done using a mixture of Illustrator straight line and variable-pressure-brush-tool with a Wacom tablet and pen
I want to explore this further and am collecting examples of line work (mail me if you have any).
Am I right to use these realistic icons? They are certainly accurate – these are the B17-G planes, used at this time later in the war. But do they convey ‘bomberness’ as much as they might?
To B-17G or not to B-17G?
The question needs to be are they good enough to communicate the idea of ‘Plane Dropping Bombs’ and I think they are - luckily the B-17G has a very pronounced tail that survives this reduction in size - whilst maintaining their role as readable symbols.
But - I think some of the readership will appreciate these details. I bet a few notice and are glad that I have taken care - or they may just be sticklers for detail.
I am happy with this arrangement on the right page but it was not without it's issues.
'Bubble charts' (area-defining circles instead of bars) are much the vogue but I think mine are justified here
I am happy that it is efficient in using the basic pie-chart device for multiple layers of data.
It defines the proportion of a whole bombs dropped nicely - with the pie chart.
It uses the overlaid radial scale to show tonnage in each mile segment.
It uses increasingly opaque-cloud pie-sections to actually obscure the map below – conceptually sound - to show proportions of bad weather.
I had to combine the amounts that fell within a mile (three different amount: 1 mile, .5 miles, 300 yards) as it wouldn’t be possible to show them on this diagram - as the amount of space in the middle for all those variables inside one mile is very small. There is always a tension between the suitability of the display construct/metaphor and the portrayal of data and this time the metaphor won out. Some would argue that the display construct should be the servant of the data. I think that the main idea of this graphic sis to show the inaccuracy of bombing in the outer ranges - rather than the accuracy of the areas close to the target so in that way I am OK with leaving out the data from the very middle.
I would have rather showed this detail but I don't think it obscures or distorts the basic story. It is just another case of design/ communication being about what you leave out. (Galling when you have been in the Imperial War Museum writing it all down on tracing paper - but hey.)
Easter Eggs in Graphics
When dealing with a specialist magazine,(as well as providing the normal levels of data – both simple and complex) one should provide a level hidden to 99% of people apart from the experts.
They are the people who will be more likely to spend time poring over these graphics and so to reward their attention it might be nice to make sure that there are some surprises.
In this graphic, those who know about the USAAF Bomber War will know that Regensburg was a significant target throughout the war, so they might notice that the map underneath the data is one of those much-bombed rail yards, rather than something non-specific - and this map is not published anywhere else. I found it in the USBSS (United States Strategic Bombing Survey).
I think people who know about stuff like such knowing references. I would just need to make sure that it didn’t steer attention from the main thrust of the data/ story.
I’ll try to include these deep lying surprises in future ones too.
My sister is a cartographer and she gave me some excellent advice on this. She mentioned that the weather labels needed to be always the same way up as readers didn’t like moving the publication around in order to read it (obvious now I think about it). She also helped get the labeling sorted. ----- So thanks Alice x.
We had to work hard on the labeling and location of the labeling – I was worried that it needed to work too hard and that the graphic should be more self explanatory.
I think that labels and sign posting are generally welcomed by the readers. This graphic saw us play a little more with Wendy's design style guide - testing out what some of the smaller fonts and different sub-heads could do.
I think they can really help future graphics in their readability - but much of the way to a readable graphic is having one that sticks to a central theme across one spread - and that is what we will be doing more of in the coming year.