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Infographics & Writing

Why sneak writing in with designing infographics?

Both are about organizing information. Clear writing reflects clear thinking.
With infographics, turning a pile of random factoids and bits of data into a compelling narrative, whether it encompasses writing, writing and design, or just design, is about plotting and pacing those pieces along a narrative arc, a storyline that grabs the human heart. When you’re telling a story that’s more about a mood (the simple.com spot at the bottom of this page), you’re doing that in reverse: you have to construct a logical universe for the mood to live in.

Flatten the Curve
Knowhere News
Conceptual Illustration/Data-Viz Animation

You could probably guess not just the month but the week of 2020 that this was created. We were counting our pasta packs and cans of beans, rationing our toilet paper — my dad was released from the hospital north of Seattle, one of the first 250 patients in the U.S. to be hospitalized for COVID-19 (a week or so after my mom had it in late February, she managed to sleep it off at home). It seemed like a big deal at the time. I was fine, bored and anxious, “Tiger King” already watched, and I couldn’t see them for a few weeks as they were being told to quarantine. Like most of us, I knew absolutely nothing about what was ahead of us but was just stuck inside and had this little assignment from Bay Area startup Knowhere News, a bit conceptual/editorial illustration, a bit preachy data viz, simplistically hopeful in retrospect (as we all were) but certainly the right emotional and pragmatic note for the moment: we all needed to feel like this was manageable and understood by public health officials, easily resolved in a few weeks, a few months tops. Maybe these nodal patterns (served as ads in social media feeds) could offer a bit of confidence in the unknowable months to come, totems of faith in expertise and a scientific understanding of the world — arguably the job of most infographics.

Your Mobile Future Is At Risk
Illustration and Infographic Design
Most of us go about our lives blissfully unaware of what systems our mobile devices rely on, but if they suddenly ran out of some crucial resource, we’d all immediately pay attention.

It’s a matter of concern to the U.S. Congress, in fact, as they control the wireless spectrum’s allotment of frequencies. This infographic sought to raise this issue on the radar of voters, connecting the services we use day in and day out with a political concern that’s not too likely to create headlines.

Paul Allen’s Commitment to Ebola
Paul G. Allen Foundation
Illustrations and Infographic Design
At the height of a West African ebola resurgence in 2014, Paul Allen (a co-founder of Microsoft) pledged some large sums of money directed towards stamping out the disease for good.

This infographic was meant for internal stakeholderes, those with a vested interest in knowing how the efforts in West Africa were going. It used the red, green, and yellow branding established for other elements of this campaign to visualize a variety of vignettes that painted a picture of how every dollar was being spent, down to the specific items needed for medical workers’ suits.

2014 Impact Report
Vulcan (Paul Allen Foundation)
Infographics & Report Design 
There’s a great Michael Beirut talk about clients, and in that talk he says something to the effect of “design is at its best when the designer is excited about what the client is excited about.” 

That’s sometimes easier said than done.

It’s a lot easier to be excited about what the client is excited about when you’re talking about counting the number of elephants in Africa, though, one of many projects that Paul Allen invests in across the globe.

#GivingTuesday Vaccine Campaign
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Social Media Campaign 
A little bit of an infographic, a little bit of an ad, the one thing you don’t expect from The Gates Foundation, or any large NGO, is a cheeky campaign. The long prevalence, really the dreaded expectation, of poverty porn in this sphere almost certainly made this approach sellable internally, though.

Posted a few days after Thanksgiving and the Walmart bull-run antics that Black Friday is famous for, this #GivingTuesday social media campaign played off of the visual language of the glossy circulars for department stores that stuff the insides of the newspaper before Thanksgiving.

This sort of “cheeky/parody” thing was something Josh had his first experiences doing as an intern at Modern Dog Design Co. in Seattle, Washington c. 2004: a unique thing to set as your baseline experience although seemingly normal at the time.

Also worth noting: this is the only time Josh has intentionally used straight quotes (") rather than curly quotes (“”).

Alumnae Dispersal Map
St. Mary’s Academy
Infographic Design
A spread from the redesigned Imprint alumnae magazine for St. Mary’s Academy, the premier girls’ prep school in Portland, Oregon, there wasn’t a clever concept or some imaginative data visualization to impress other designers here.

You could think of it more like visual data entry, really: place a dot on the map then enter the corresponding info. Do that enough times and the result gives you an enormous amount of info in one spread, though — not only where graduates of St. Mary’s have attended school recently, but what kind of institution they’ve gone to.

$1 Billion for Education
Environmental Infographic Design
A part of the environmental signage filling up Minneapolis’ Target Arena during Target’s annual Managers Conference in 2015, this infographic took up a whole wall, meaning a major consideration was how someone might take in the information 1–3 feet away. Breaking it into a left, middle, and right section meant a viewer could peruse just that one chunk then take a few steps to the right to take in the next part. More likely, of course, few people actually took in the whole thing sequentially — like most infographics, a few small modules might actually be glanced over. Whereas a typical infographic is read privately, this had the “museum-like” quality of others moving around as you take it in, in this case your coworkers from across the US.

Augmented Reality Infographic
Illustration and Infographic Design
Only a few years after the images moved — literally magic — in the newspapers of Harry Potter’s universe, Aurasma commissioned Josh to create what was probably the world’s first augmented reality infographic. You can read more about it on the TED blog, download Aurasma Lite and try it out on this infographic, or just watch the TED talk at right.

Breakfast Pear-ings
U.S.A. Pears
Illustration and Infographic Design 
Terrible pun aside, this pear recipe infographic restrains itself towards overly technical or flowery visual solutions, its output an easy, practical reference printed on refrigerator magnets. (One missing note, perhaps: you will be super hungry if you try to eat just one of these recipes for your entire breakfast. More importantly, there’s a trade group that wants you to buy and eat more pears, something you’ve probably never thought about).

Don’t Go Against the Grain
Illustrated vs. Photographic Infographic Process 

Somewhere in between an infographic and an illustrated ad, it’s hard to remember which one of these two approaches ended up being used at the end of the day — I think the darker, photographic one got taken to a few meetings and it was unclear that these were all for sure Kashi products, so we had to go in a more illustrated direction. They’re sort of nice to look at next to each other, though, right?

Long Scrolling Infographics
Coca-Cola, HP, Honeywell,
Microsoft, and The Edison Institute 

Infographic Writing & Design
Starting in the mid-2000s and hitting its peak about 2011, these long scrolling infographics were all over the web and Josh Oakley created a good number of them. These seven examples for corporations often adhered strictly to brand guidelines (e.g. the Coca-Cola water conservation piece), but they also often needed to feel a bit off-brand (the SWSXi piece for HP Autonomy): the goal might be to not make them seem like a straight-up ad for the brand.


It’s obvious but important to note that writing and design are at their strongest when interdependent. The classic, rudimentary example might be the famous “Think Small” VW campaign, where the art direction and copy relied on one another.

Of all the corners of design Josh has dipped his toes into, infographics seem like the area where writing and design are the most inextricably linked, from big concepts down to every small detail. As simple as this seems, the human mind is always a bit resistant to this sort of combinative thinking (whether it’s by nature or just due to mainly writing essays from elementary school through college is not clear).

In 2011, Josh had the unique opportunity to concept, research, and write infographics, leaving the design to other parties. These infographics didn’t have a client — it was a complicated business model, mainly for SEO. Josh can tell you more about it if you’re curious.

For corporate clients, infographic copy is often delivered as long sentences that form linear thoughts like an essay. This is not how people read infographics, though: info needs to be broken up into chunks, it needs to present itself systematically where comparisons can easily be scanned. The graphics above usually entailed a bit of a rewrite to break them up into labels and tags.
A bigger picture concern, however, is the question, “Is this interesting enough?” All the infographics below were meant to go viral — that was central to why we were making them.

With concepting and writing infographics, the goal was always to get something interesting on paper first, and if it felt solid as a Google doc, it was ready for designers to work their magic — hoping that design would “save” a script meant it shouldn’t become a fully-formed infographic.

The infographics below were blogged about far and wide on media outlets like NPR, The Atlantic, CNN, Mashable, AdWeek, HuffPo, and many others. Below is one script that turned into a Claymation(!) video. The five below that were the typical format, long scrolling JPGs that journalists could post on blogs.

Writing & Art Direction 
This spot is the one case of Josh’s writing without any infographic-related elements attached — it’s purely a short and sweet narrative.

Portland-based Simple.com seeks to reinvent banking. Part of a larger campaign that riffed on the idea of things that go together like budgeting & banking — the core value proposition of their app is that your bank can also be your budgeting tool — this spot took that simple idea of “A+B” and spun it into a full story about finding true love: A+B, B+C, C+D, and so on until it comes full circle.

Josh wrote the script for the piece then worked with the director and producer to pull off a barebones shoot in L.A. over a weekend.

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