This is the first in a long series of reviews of existing infographics as they’re released to the public, with my critique, observations, and suggestions. This way you’ll get a taste of my tastes, if you will. My remake of it appears below.
I start this series with a look at an infographic done for a health blog called, sure enough, Health Blog. The post with the infographic is on this page. You might want to flip back and forth between browser tabs for this.
The overall color is that deep brown of an oxidized tea leaf. (I learned about oxidization from the infographic itself.) A glass cup dominates the top; herein is our first problem. If you cut a picture of a glass from one color background (in this case white) and place it onto another background (dark brown), it’s no longer a convincing glass. Besides, we can make that cup do double duty later in the graphic. You’ll see.
The script in “A Cup of” looks hand-drawn. The big blocky word “TEA?” is disconcerting, and not very tea-like. (Helvetica? Really?) Let’s reverse them, shall we? We’ll make the word “Tea” in a script, in an eye-popping vermillion that contrasts well.
The main paragraph below is set in Times Roman. What? Helvetica and Times? Surely we can do better than that. I selected as Indian and tea-like a typeface as has ever existed: Cochin. The italic is very calligraphic and eastern-looking.
It’s a great idea to have some data snake and meander its way down the page, but having more than one item do it seemed odd to me, not to mention cramping the real estate down by the map. I gathered all 25 brands, put them onto more attractive teacup shapes, and arranged them into one info-area. I put it at the bottom; if it were my client, he might have insisted on an earlier placement, and I would’ve figured out a way to do that.
This way, the only thing that meanders is the very age-of-exploration-looking dotted line marking the progress through the centuries. If I colored it the right way, and have it dodge around some details and behind some others, I could make it look more like an actual voyage line, instead of the horizontals and verticals and rounded corners.
The border around Emperor Shan Nong looked nice, so I reused it for other timepoints, but also for callout quotes. I omitted the big bulbous quote marks, mostly because the references don’t indicate who’s “saying” the quotes. They’re facts, and that’s all that they need to represent.
Smaller text straddled Times Roman and Futura, neither of which said “tea” as well as H&FJ’s Verlag, a slightly art-deco sans-serif. Emphasis that was in ALL CAPS I made lowercase and bold.
Now we have the difficulty that is the import / export / consumption / sales thing, represented by the map / text / bar graph. I hate to say it, but … what a mess! The map is much too small to pull off the varying-diameter circles, because it’s crowded out by a bar graph of countries, not to mention the column of cups in different brands down the right side. Why not put those bar-graph figures of consumption per capita onto the map too? To maximize surface area, I turned the map 90 degrees, so legends and flags could be close enough to the colored country blob.
I would have gotten the client to agree that ranking imports by total weight and counting kilograms of consumption per person was redundant enough to choose one and eliminate the other. Presumably the US and Russia would have production numbers of some kind; here they just have a ranking. Note that I repurposed the kettle shape from the Classes area and the cup shape from the Brands area, and put them to work as icons for production and consumption, respectively.
The odd rounded-corner anatomical diagram had to go, not so much because of its look (what’s with that small intestine there?) as the fact that each Health Benefit didn’t have a corresponding organ. So I called on a DaVinci cliché, the Vitruvian Man. The claims are contained in ovals matching the vermillion of the title.
Finally, at the bottom, the last stop in the meandering timeline — and our hero teacup, in a clean white background, where it looks best.
(Click on it to see it at full size.)
In from the Beginning
Of course, if I had the job from the start, I’d have found more specific links to the data in the sources. And what about flavorings? My favorite tea, Earl Gray, tastes the way it does because of a non-tea flavoring (bergamot orange juice). What other things do manufacturers mix into tea? What about chai? Or kombucha? Why, if we’re talking about “flavour” (British spelling), does the timeline seem so Americo-centric? Who’s the audience here? What is the word “Tea” in the languages of the biggest consumers and producers? How would that look in a montage?
Maybe the artist asked these things… but there were only 4,380 pixels of height. Something had to give.