Thunder Bay Port Authority: Annual Report

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” – 
Herbert Simon

It takes a “unique” type of individual to look at spreadsheets and get all giddy inside. For the rest of us, viewing raw data is somewhere on the emotional spectrum between nightmare and waiting in line at the DMV. So when it comes to information design, what can I designer do to break the trend of rows and columns and create something that is truly visually engaging? The tedium of numbers and stats may seem intimidating and lifeless, but I assure you, it can be done. All we need is to know what story we’re telling.

“For all the care you put into artistry, visual polish frequently doesn’t matter if you are getting the story right.” – Ed Catmull, Pixar

Mr. Catmull is correct; however, I believe that even if the story is right, is takes a little extra to turn your information design from good to great. Hubspot and Visage collaborated on an handy little ebook named Data Visualization 101: How to Design Charts and Graphs. In the first few pages they acutely express that, “your data is only as good as your ability to understand and communicate it, which is why choosing the right visualization is essential.”

Even if you have a guerilla-like stranglehold on the fundamental principles of design, it’s incredibly important to have a rudimentary understanding of information design.

The right story + the right execution = engaging content

The Port of Thunder Bay—“Canada’s Gateway to the West”—is an important link in the supply chain for general and dimensional cargo destined for projects in western Canada, including wind farms, mine sites and oil sands.

Each year the Thunder Bay Port Authority (TBPA) publishes an annual report highlighting notable information from the previous shipping season, such as: cargo statistics, statistical highlights, financial position, events and significant communication material.

Our objective was to create an informative tool for the TBPA to provide to its board, stakeholders, community and business partners. In the creative brief, they stated that they wanted a visual change to their previously designed annual report and were open to our ideas and opinions on the project, as long as our efforts remained within the standards of their visual identity.

Our goal was to evolve the TBPA annual report from years previous, as well as organize and express their statistical information in an engaging visual manner, for a broad audience to understand.
The TBPA provided us with a comprehensive package of statistics, spreadsheets and photography. I consulted backlogs of annual reports in the Generator archives to develop ideas, gain understanding and become inspired.

The creative team and I discovered that all TBPA documents were 8.5” x 11” in measurement. We decided that breaking this pattern would differentiate the annual report as an important piece of TBPA collateral. I brainstormed ways to subtly tweak the grid, typography, space and visual hierarchy, that would show a distinct evolution, while maintaining the integrity of the TBPA visual identity standards.

I began the design process by experimenting with elements of the visual identity such as type, colour, photography, etc. Without overhauling the previous annual report, I tried to display the new information using techniques such as text wrapping, coloured type, narrow margins, and pictorial concepts to illustrate statistical information.
The TBPA were responsive to the increased use of infographics depicting numerical data. We both agreed that using infographics would be an excellent way to engage the reader and express the significance of the new data.

In previous years, the TBPA annual report was a standard 8.5” x 11” document. We explored a vertical layout of 6” x 11” and a horizontal layout of 11” x 9”. I assembled a dummy of these documents and quickly realized that the measurement alterations were too drastic of a change. I weighed the pros and cons and ultimately decided that subtly altering the document size would still have our desired effect. With the TBPA’s approval, we changed the document size from 8.5” x 11” to a slimmer 8” x 10”.
Consistent discussion with the Generator creative team helped me design a series of infographics that expressed the data in a new and unique way. Using infographics such as graphs, pictograms, maps and iconography helped evolve the TBPA messaging in a way that accurately reflected the shifting cultural trends and information delivery systems.

We completed our goal of evolving the annual report by subtly tweaking the document size and instituting a new way of communicating information using engaging illustrations to tell the TBPA story to a much broader audience.

Agency: Generator
Creative Director: Barry Smith RGD
Graphic Designer/Illustrator: Greg Dubeau RGD

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