The graphic for the April issue of WWII magazine looks at the progress of US machine gun technology. It shows how these weapons started heavy and became lighter to suit more mobile tactics.
This month's graphic for WWII Magazine is on German sea mines and how the Allies countered them.
Staring top left, one would read this in a traditional manner
Just having a simple single background would lead the eye, but it implied a steady development of one variable - whereas this graphic was about different kinds of mines.
More single-background element here - but too distracting from the foreground elements - and a bit overboard with the 3-d water effect etc.
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.
This month's graphic compares different armaments from fighters in the WWII European Air War.
The aircraft are armed according to purposes that changed throughout the war e.g. we can see that German fighters at the end of the war were armed with heavier calibre weapons so the could shoot down the bombers over their homeland.(And the US fighters that defended these bombers only needed a lighter calibre MG round for their primary task - destroying fighters.)
There were many factors to a plane's lethality - not least the experience of the pilots - this a factor that did for the Luftwaffe in 1944 as the Allies began to destroy oil and planes used for training. But I was going to concentrate on the calibres of weapons that differed in the air powers.
Point of View
I wanted to give an idea of how much armament each plane carried.
Some books show the weight of rounds fired through the air.
One could also argue that the cannon shells had explosive filling and so their effectiveness wasn't just down to mass or velocity.
Others discuss the benefits of lighter MG rounds that can travel further at a higher rate and so can lay more fire on a target, against the slower but heavier cannon rounds that fell shorter and at a lower rate of fire.
I just decided that in the interests of an understandable graphic, the calibre size and number of guns would be highlighted, with the text explaining the issues around these choices.
From the start I wanted to show life-size calibres of these weapons.
Ideally we would have had them punching holes through the paper, but this would prove too costly.
We worked out that the pages on the other side - that you looked through to - would need to be heavily text based so that the holes would show a (ground )texture very different to the 'figure' of the page.
The idea for life-sized holes came to me earlier on in the graphic that compared key WWII tanks.
I tried quite a few experiments with showing life sized calibres
there but the circles had too much overlap
and the information was hard to read. It also lost the punchiness of being a darker hole in the paper and became (aesthetically pleasing -
but not very useful) blobs.
So with the calibre graphic, i started out showing the holes separately, easily labelled and comparable - showing how many weapons each plane had of which calibre. I laid them out along a horizontal axis that shows the war years - a decent canvas for comparing technologies.
I then colour coded them
And then wanted to add more data and this required that i overlaid the calibre-holes where possible -
and then in order to add a signpost to the graphic - to show at a glance what it was about, I added plane silhouettes. The earlier tank graphic could have done with these just to let people know what they were getting - without proving too much of a distraction
I was quite happy with this - but the editorial team at the magazine felt that some of the calibres were getting hard to read - they had a good point. We also wanted to try the real-holes-in-the-paper so we came up with this arrangement.
There is the added benefit in that there is now the space to include other data abut these planes, including range and speed. It was a nice way to prototype using a mixture of scanned pencil sketch and some elements in Adobe Illustrator just to point out how some of the elements would look.
The use of these icons to show the common targets was also carefully considered. I was lucky enough to discuss in a day long tutorial by Scott McCloud that an harmonising elements (eg colour or background shapes) should not take anything from the recognition/ reading of the actual shapes/ symbols. I figured that the ones in circles looked like the real thing but didn't read as well - so out they came.
The June_July Issue of WWII Magazine features a graphic about the last of the vengeance weapons that Hitler hoped would destroy Britain.
Recent discussions with folks in the graphics industry have pointed me towards the need for better signposting. Like many people passionate about a subject, it is always tempting to afford equal importance to all elements. A balanced composition is one thing - but there should be no confusion as to what the subject or editorial thrust is.
As well as the headline, the initial image and paragraph should tell us what the basics of the story are and what to expect from the graphic.
I haven't put a scale in many of these illustrations - it is often a reliable staple of lazy graphics - and in Britain, things always get compared to a double decker bus. It seems relevant here though as the size of this weapon is one of the reasons for it's failure - but also symbolic of Hitler's (and Nazi German) arrogance and extreme vision.
Tools wise, I am using Google Sketchup to make some of these elements - it's a great programme although sometimes distracting to use. You really need to know what you want t achieve when you start it up or you'll be there for hours.
When in the states recently I came across this V-Weapons Sites book by Steven Zaloga. . It is pretty concise. Ill add some more books as the blog goes on.
It's a shorter post this time as I am just back from being away - lots to catch up on.
This graphic for WWII Magazine is concerned with the Kamikaze tactics employed by Japan during WWII.
The graphic element at the bottom of the left hand page shows numbers of kamikazes. Due to the lack of proper records and confusion of these attacks, precise numbers are harder to come by but I think that the graphic here represents a s fair proportion of sunk ships to overall missions. One insight from doing this piece of work was that the deck-gunners and sailors on the US ships couldn't be 100% positive as to which was and wasn't a Kamikaze plane when they were at distance - as the escort planes would fly close to them and also act as unwitting decoys.
Selection of Planes
I wasn't exhaustive with the selection of all planes used in these missions for the same reasons of space and the fact that in their desperation , the Japanese used many many types of plane for this task. I mentioned others apart fro he Zero because it is important to challenge people's mental model of WWII - beyond that which they get from the mass media.
I felt it important to point out the fallibility of much of the technology and tactics and to show that es, they did create chaos and death but ultimately they lost more than they gained.
I think this is one of the most important aspects of this work - especially as there is so much rubbish written about the superiority of Axis technology and troops. Yes - each side's military had it's strengths and weaknesses, but it is important to explain that this tactic was used because they were desperate - id they had plenty f planes, plenty of pilots and plenty of oil, they would have carried on with a more conventional form of defence I am sure (albeit more desperate the closer the lies got o the home islands. (Any non-S readers should check out The War - a documentary which is unashamedly US in it's outlook - although fair in it's assessment of the sacrifice of others (including the USSR). But even though we see various Hollywood films, the US story is not told in depth to the non-US citizen - so the War is a good place to start.
In the work I am doing for the magazine and the book proposal, I am trying to introduce visual coding of the subject matter that should run throughout. It is done here with The use of the blue background - something I am trying to use for many of the aerial graphics - especial when the detail is concerned with the tactics of flying rather than just machinery. I will also continue the colour coding of the different belligerent powers - Green for USA, Khaki for UK, Red for USSR and Blue/ Grey for Nazi Germany. It is hard to evaluate whether it will work or whether it is worth doing until a larger body of work is built up and the graphics can be read as a series or at least related - no just by the subject material but by the basic building blocks that make them. It is odd to develop a style guide on the fly - as opposed to running into what many designers love doing - great big style guide 'bibles' - but I wonder that I don't have the full range of all the required variable s of such a guide in front of me yet - so I'm doing it as I go along.
I felt that the crash tactics were pretty well explained with the three stage sequence on the right hand page but one issue was with what kind of treatment to show the impact. This is one of the few graphics (even though they all deal with parts of a catastrophic story) that shows mortal moments and I hope that they are shown sensitively.
Some (experts) could also argue that the proximity fuse is too simple - that it takes a lot of the operations of such a device for granted. I think that one needs to remember that the editorial gravity of the graphic is about kamikazes and so just as the Leigh Light deserves it's own spread from the Radar graphic - a call needs to made i the story telling and the call was that the Proximity fuse needed to explained simply.
Although my article features the Culin hedgerow cutter, it is fair to say that faced with similar problems and with similar means of solving them, similar solutions appeared independently. The Culin cutter is one of the better recorded examples but there were a few types. Technology is often a result of human needs being met (when it is not blind invention) and there have been many examples of this throughout history - Guns. Germs and Steel is the best book on such ideas. (I'm always going on about that book.)
Some accounts state that the materials used for the cutters were 'Rommel's Asparagus'. When Rommel was assigned to the Atlantic Wall, he installed hundreds of metal poles in fields. These were to disrupt and crash the fabric-covered gliders that were to land there. There were in fact many types of (beach/ field/ anti tank/roadlock) obstacle for the engineers of the hedge-cutters to recycle and so I have tried not to be too specific.
Starting the story at the map begged a few issues (covered later on in 'Cartography' too). I would start with the general map of the area. I felt I could exclude a global 'locator' as we called them in my old design team as I reckoned that knowing where France is should be like knowing that WWII was in the last century. (Is this presupposed knowledge - i suppose it is - but many of the readers really know their stuff/(were there!) so lets just go with it) How to then zoom in was trickier. I wanted to first use the long tiled-field element that explains how many fields the troops would need to cross. I then thought that that is not useful information until you knew how dangerous they could be and that info had to come first - at the bottom of the left page. So I continued a slow zoom - into an 'anyvillage' and then to the hedgerow itself.
I was aware (being British) that it was not just the Americans who faced difficulty here. The British and Canadian troops also faced difficulties - but especially through street fighting. It is important to try to concentrate on one story at a time and so I stuck with the US tale of the hedge cutters.
I have been trying to make the arrows blend into that which they indicate as much as possible. This is more possible by using the 'darken opacity' transparency on them. In this way they are less singular arrow-shaped agents and more part of the graphic. Anyone interested in Arrows in Information Graphics could do worse than read Edward Tufte's new book - Beautiful Evidence - its got a really good chapter on them. (Anyone thinking that this is abit too detailed about Information Graphics - that was your hint - this is not the site for you.)
I am getting closer to deciding a house style for these maps. I am pretty happy with the colours - but I need to decide whether they will always be the same style. The commando knife graphic (incidentally the most searched-for on Google) features a map that doesn't need a lot of cartographic detail and begs the question of how much detail does one need for basic story telling as opposed to actual wayfinding.
On the Sherman tank with the orange cutter, I don't suppose that any units painted their cutters bright orange - nor would it have been the thing to alert the dug-in Germans that a Sherman tank was coming into their field, but I think that colouring them so in this graphic succeeds in alerting us to what we need to know (Colour Leads The Way). (I chose the colours as they have a 'construction' look - an artistic license that I hope is OK.)
Not Using The Spread
Some designers feel, if given a double page spread, you should use the increased area to maximise your message through a device that occupies or exploits that area as a whole - rather than just in pieces. I looked at this issue of the graphic-vista in the Assault Rifle write up but here is a counter argument (to myself) - If the most important role for design is to support the information, and the information will have an optimal format (narrative, argument, breaking news etc) then the design needs to compliment that format. The design format chosen here aids narrative (the story of problem - then solution) through traditional reading from top left to bottom right - with words and pictures along the way. By getting people in at a natural entry point (top left) and hopefully keeping their interest throughout, you will impart the information in an appropriate way. Of course not all graphics are a narrative - the 'Which Tank was tops graphic was what we could call Guided Data.
Hmm - I think this is a separate post but it is something to do with the fact that augmenting a chart, should not be jazzy pictures (count the roller coasters next to the stock market charts over the next few months) but stories that highlight trends and facts behind the data. True, advanced graphics with many layers can develop from just making this clear to showing correlation, but a story helps too (that's why people like presenters talking next to charts on TV News.)
This month's graphic gives ammunition to those engaged in any 'best of' conversations around Tanks in WWII.
(I'll try to post some of the previous versions in a week or so - but am v busy with new mac and xmas parties - for US readers, we in the UK go out alot at Christmas Time.The main aim of the graphic is to be able to give people a framework to discuss the virtues of tanks in WWII. It doesn't necessarily seek to be conclusive although I do believe it shows some interesting patterns.
An influential factor was the volume of production undertaken by the US and Russia. This is hinted at but I was wondering if there was any way to show this on the graphic. I decided not as it would have been a distracting variable in this discussion.(rising bars along the years etc)
Life size calibre
I am working on another graphic, to be featured this year hopefully, showing how in the European Air War the Germans (especially) up-gunned to cannon where the US stayed with machine gun calibre bullets. An interesting point in the design is that the calibres of the projectiles are shown real size on the page.
I wondered if this was also possible with the tank calibres and I tried a bunch of different permutations but again, despite looking interesting, they didn't really allow comparison - and they all bled into each other. This would be interesting to put on a wall chart or a larger format display but not here.
Barrel lengths and type of projectile
Some might argue that I have gone for the wrong or over-simplistic variables involved in assessing the effectiveness of tanks. Instead, I want to do some other graphics that explain factors as barrel length and velocity as well as comparing different types of shells and tank gunnery in general.
It does ask wider questions of how much data can be contained in a magazine-spread display as opposed to other media. (there aren't too many that compare with the high resolution of magazine printing - newsprint is poorer for instance.
One could argue that the web is a place for some of these issues - I will address that in a later article but these graphics are staying in print for the foreseeable future.
Taking out the KV2
I had included the KV2 heavy tank - partly because it is such a magnificent looking thing - and it also underlines (and over-illustrates) the Russian commitment to heavy tanks.
Variation in Tank Models within designations
One interesting fact which there was no room to show was the amount of development within Tank Models. There were many makes of the Panzer IV, with new armour and minor tweaks to the gun, iterating the machine towards the next model. There was also a lot of battle field modification at unitlevel, which would not have been noted and so the number of different tanks within seemingly set patterns is much more plentiful than at first seems.
I was thinking of adding a silhouette at the bottom of each 'bar' but at this size, they would not have been useful - and their minimal decorative quality at that size would have served only to distract.
I thought to indicate the weight of the tanks by showing the tracks as darker on the heavier tank - the reasoning being they would leave more of a mark on the page as they went across it - this was a bit too clever/ obtuse and again there was a danger that the graphic could be cluttered by this.