Visualising Volume

Scott Willan
April 3, 2019


Over the last few months I have been part of a project to help streamline the process of visualising data. The infographic above is part of the output of this project. As I was working through the projects new development cycle, the lack of distractions made it very apparent there are two concepts to focus on when creating any infographic. What you describe, and how you describe it.

What we describe is more often than not, numbers. Describing large numbers in an impactful way can somethimes be difficult. It’s a weird process of taking a number that’s in our head, describing it, and then using that description to better visualise it in our heads again. This is why the ‘how’ is important. It’s not good enough to simply write some numbers on a piece of paper and call it a day. We need to be able to lead our viewers on a journey and help them get the most out of our visualisation. Below are a few things to keep in mind when deciding how to describe your data.

How to effectively describe data

Stay focused

Right at the start of the process, you need to make a decision on what you are trying to say with your infographic. There may come a point where you find out something super interesting that doesn’t quite fit your story and you now have a decision to make. You can put that something aside and use it for another project, or you can change what your story is, but don’t try and shoe-horn something in if it doesn’t make sense.

Tell a story

Viewers can’t take everything in at once. So we need to help them take it in piece by piece. This is the crux of layout design. A simple format is left to right top to bottom. It’s the natural flow for a lot of languages, but it’s also a little boring. Another option is a hub and spoke layout. This is what I have used in the attached example. The key metric goes somewhere central. Then you add the spoke or satellite visuals around the edges. With this it is more important to understand design principles as they are going to be what is leading the viewer. For more ideas on layouts, have a look here.

Take steps

Sometimes, no matter how pretty your picture, a number is just too big on its own. But you can build up to your key number by taking steps. This is more on the arbitrary side of things but you could use people in a stadium, stadiums in a city, cities in a country etc. With this, it is very important to use units people can easily understand and imagine in their heads.

Say less, show more

This is something I need to keep reminding myself about. If you find you are writing paragraphs of text with every visualisation you make, without which the graphic makes no sense. Then you may need to rethink your game plan. This might include taking some of that supporting information and moving it into its own graphic.

Be consistent

If you’re not making your own graphics, it can be difficult to keeps styles consistent while obtaining all the objects you want. Some times it’s easier to have your design driven by the images you have access to rather than the other way round. If you do have the capability, I would highly recommend creating everything yourself.


When it comes to design development, something no one seems to mention is sacrifice. Sometimes you can’t fit everything you want. Some times what you want to add will be out of context. Being able to accept this and not add everything you want to is what will make a good graphic great. Plan what you are going to say and how you are going to say it before you even touch the design. Sometimes when we’re busy getting stuck in with Adobe Illustrator it’s hard to see the woods for the trees. Proper planning up front will help mitigate this.

From hard data to fluid design – Scott.

Scott blogs about how design and making things look good no matter if its a website or data. He is great at making data consumable and therefore valuable.

Connect with Scott on LinkedIn or read his other blogs here.

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