What We DoIt’s no great stretch to suggest that practically every public
policy analyst working today has, at one time or another,
taken figures from a spreadsheet and tried to generate a chart.
And why not? Computer programs are replete with charting or
graphing capabilities, and think tanks have access to enormous
amounts of data. The analyst inputs some numbers, adjusts a
few settings, and voilà—instant visuals! But while the tools are
accessible, the results can be mixed. Many analysts find them-
selves underwhelmed with the results. Others try to increase the
visual impact by changing colors, using patterns, or adding other
elements, only to see their work spiral into a mass of clashing
colors and illegibility.
If the results are sometimes disappointing, the efforts are
noble. Information graphics are the great companions to
By John W. Fleming
The InsIder spring 08
Consistency in style will direct the reader’s attention
to the content of the graphic; inconsistency can distract.
research articles. Some are modest, yet others
lead the charge and can actually become the
article. Whether they are born out of little or
great ambition, information graphics, when
used with care and understanding, can make
points in ways that words alone cannot.
My primary role as graphics editor is to
oversee the production of information graph-
ics, but experience has taught me the impor-
tance of demystifying my work. Much of my
time is spent with dozens of incredibly intel-
ligent colleagues; I couldn’t hope to know
what they know. One of the keys to improv-
ing our graphics, I’ve found, is to allow them
to see through my eyes a little and give them
a glimpse of what is possible. Here are a few
insights that can help form the foundation of
a successful graphics operation.
don’t reinvent the Wheel With
To determine how your graphics will look,
you need to develop a style. Style refers to
visual elements such as colors, fonts, and