delightful (re)designs




May’s design challenge called for creativity and thoughtfulness. Nearly 30 members sourced an everyday item to explore how they’d redesign the object with an eye towards functionality—leveraging their unique perspectives as the intended audience. The submissions were impressive, relatable, and even humorous at times. Jennifer shared an elevator that left many of us with more questions than answers. Alfonso was matter-of-fact, pointing out that the only information we often care about on pasta packaging can be stated in two simple words: 9 minutes!


Aside from the fun nature of this challenge, it was also enlightening. Colin remarked, “This challenge has got me thinking how the design principles of data visualization can be applied to everyday product design.” It turns out that design concepts are useful in numerous settings, and in our case, they are especially helpful when building effective data communications and monthly challenge submissions. Let’s explore some of the specific concepts that were on display this month and how we can apply them to our graphs.

Broadly speaking, accessibility is about inclusivity and designing for people of diverse backgrounds and skills. Specific to graphs, this might mean being color-blind friendly, or also mean not overcomplicating the message with specialized language, using universal symbols and icons, or reinforcing a point with both text and visuals. For example, Rory used familiar symbols in his redesign of a bus stop sign to help non-native speakers, Charles simplified his cable remote, appealing to a less tech-savvy user, and Erika paired concise language with visuals in her recipe redesign. Each of these strategies work not only for everyday products, but also for regular communications like emails, handouts, and slides.

Objects with good design affordances are intuitive to use. Their characteristics make it obvious how to interact with the item. For example, the grip on my pen tells me how to hold it, similar to the handle of my fork or the knob on my door. Several members leveraged strong affordances in their redesigns to make everyday items more intuitive. Gary reimagined the size and layout of the knobs on his stove to mimic the burners—eliminating the need for labels all together! Annie modified the bulleted text on a package of coffee beans to create a numbered list, making it clear there are instructions to be consumed in a specific order. Lance created a set of tile like instructions to reinforce a game involving tile pieces. We can accomplish this in our data communications, too, by creating a visual hierarchy, tying related pieces of information together, and choosing a graph type that illuminates the underlying message.

When something looks nice, we are more likely to engage with it and may even be more forgiving of shortcomings. While this challenge was to focus on functionality over form, many took their functional redesigns to the next level by spending ample time on the aesthetics. Robyn revamped a clothing tag by creating sections, adding icons, and doing all of this in a visually appealing way—seriously, I never thought I’d refer to a tag as visually appealing, but this one is. Pris received a round of community applause—12 datapoints to be exact—with a redesigned movie ticket. Pris simplified the layout, implemented a strong use of color, and even suggested glow-in-the-dark-ink—genius! Roland made an analog clock not only more straightforward to consume, but slick to hang on the wall. I should mention that there were several other impressive and fun submissions—too many to call out here. The point is that the time we spend being thoughtful about layout, color, alignment, and functionality is time well spent! When we layer on this extra effort, we show our audiences that we care about facilitating their understanding just as much as we care about our work.

Aside from accessibility, affordances, and aesthetics, perhaps, the most useful design-themed takeaway from this challenge is the process of obtaining feedback and refining. All of the redesigns were made possible by user feedback. The original designer didn’t think of these proposed changes, you did! This iterative and inclusive process is critical to craft intuitive and straightforward communications. It takes multiple perspectives and versions to build on top of the original concept design. I challenge you to incorporate feedback into your own practice and start thinking of each piece of content you create as a single iteration, not the final product. What can you learn and improve upon in the next version or the next graph you build? Speaking of feedback, you can share your creations in the community to seek input from both the SWD team and other members!

The designs don’t have to end here, visit the community to browse all of the submissions, or participate in the latest challenge where we ask you to employ another design strategy: monochromatic coloring. Start by designing in black and white, and if you can achieve clarity and focus in a monochromatic view, then adding a differentiating color will only make your creation that much more effective!

Source: Story Telling