Assignment 1 – Milestones Project

The first assignment for my NM3229 data visualization course was to create a useful infographic based on data available in the Milestones Project.  The Milestones Project charts the progress of data visualization over several centuries. It focuses primarily on inventions in cartography, statistics, graphics and technology. It provides detailed information about each invention such as the name of the invention, inventor name, location of invention and year of invention. In a nutshell, the Milestones Project charts the entire history of data visualization all the way from BC times to the 21st century.

The Milestones Project is filled with a lot of data and the first challenge I faced was to decide on which data to focus on in my infographic. I wanted to narrow down to a few significant pieces of data. I ultimately decided to focus on inventions in data visualization technology as technological inventions seemed the most interesting to me. I also narrowed down my focus to inventions in data visualization technology over 4 centuries (1600s to 1900s).

My first idea for the infographic was to create the effect of a road with numerous ‘milestones’ on the road to indicate inventions. Similar to the picture below, I wanted to draw a long road with milestones on the road, each  milestone having information related to an invention such as the name, year of invention and inventor name.


I started using Adobe Illustrator to create my infographic. I have never used Adobe Illustrator before and it was pretty difficult getting used to the software. I watched a few online tutorials to build my Illustrator skills  ( the tutorials I used are available here – Illustrator Tutorials). Having established some basic foundation in Illustrator, I began drawing my infographic. However, I realized that my lack of Illustrator skills and prior design experience were a major roadblock to drawing my infographic. I was unable to convert my initial idea into a concise and clear infographic using Illustrator. I hence decided to change my initial idea. Instead of creating a long winding road with milestones along the way, I decided to create crossroads like those depicted in the image below:


The crossroads divide the canvas into 4 sections. I thought I could use each section to represent a particular century. Thus, my revised design consisted of a set of crossroads dividing the canvas into 4 sections. Each section focused on a particular century (1600s to 1900s). I wanted to depict the inventions of a century in a very clear manner, including information such as the name , year and location of invention. I was able to achieve using circular markers like the image below:


This circular marker used to represent an invention has the name, year & location of invention

Hence, my first draft for the infographic consisted of crossroads dividing the canvas into 4 sections, each section focused on a century. Inventions in a century were depicted using circular markers (like the one above) and had the name, location and year of invention. I had a key to clarify which location mapped to which colour. My first draft looked like this:

a1 draft

The circular markers (in a particular section) are arranged in chronological order

I received a lot of mixed feedback regarding my first draft for assignment 1.

Here are some of the positives comments I received for my draft:

  1. Unique idea and design.
  2. Large amount of information conveyed in infographic.
  3. Suitable data-ink ratio (as per Tufte’s principles).

The primary criticism I received for my draft is as follows:

  1. Infographic is not very intuitive and easy to understand.
  2. The order of markers in a section can be misleading.
  3. The numerous colours used to depict location are distracting.
  4. The use of crossroads does not very clearly depict the idea of milestones along a road.
  5. No graphs / statistics used to depict trends.

After going through all the feedback received from Ms Jing, classmates and friends, I decided that the concept of using crossroads and milestones along a road was not a very easy one to grasp and execute. It would make more sense for me to choose a more simplistic and intuitive design to improve readability of my infographic. Hence, I decided to completely change my design for the final submission of my infographic.

I decided to depict the same data that I had depicted in draft 1 – technology inventions in data visualization from 1600s to 1900s. I liked the idea of giving each century its own section in the infographic. So I decided to divide my infographic into 4 rows, where each row represented a century. I wanted to depict an invention in a better way (instead of using circular markers like my draft 1).  So I decided to include a small picture of the invention along with its name, year of invention and inventor name. I depicted the location of invention using a tiny flag. Hence, my inventions looked something like this:


5 pieces of information regarding an invention are depicted

Apart from depicting notable inventions in a particular century, I wanted to depict some statistic or trend in my infographic. The 2 trends I decided to depict were:

  1. Increase in number of inventions over 4 centuries.
  2. Country-wise contributions to inventions.

I depicted the first piece of information using a line chart as line charts are a good way to depict a change in value over time. I observed that the number of inventions had risen from just 5 in the 1600s to 15 in the 1900s.

I depicted the country-wise contribution to inventions using a pie chart. A pie chart very clearly depicts the percentage contribution of various countries to technological inventions. I observed that US was the primary contributor to inventions.

I now had all the elements I needed for my final infographic and what remained was putting everything together.Instead of using Illustrator to put all the elements together, I decided to use an online tool called PiktoChart, recommended to me by one of my classmates. Piktochart helps to easily format and put together various elements of the infographic.

After many days of hard work, I was finally done with my infographic. It looked like this:

final a1

I had separate sections for centuries, notable inventions in a century, important information related to an invention and relevant trends and statistics. I felt like I had come a long way from when I first started working on assignment 1.

My primary takeaways from this assignment are:

  1. I have gained some knowledge on designing infographics.
  2. I have learnt how to use design tools such as Illustrator and Piktochart.

I am pretty satisfied with my final infographic and hopefully I will receive positive feedback for it!


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