About the project
I recently designed a report for a very cool organization called Little Sis (think opposite of Big Brother). They’re self-described as “a grassroots watchdog network connecting the dots between the world’s most powerful people and organizations”. Basically, they follow the money and build interactive maps to show you who’s got influence over whom.
This particular report was about the connections between New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, President Trump, and fossil fuel interests. The folks at Little Sis had a small budget of $1000 and a short deadline of just about 4 work days. Here was the prompt:
“We’ll have final copy tomorrow or Friday and would need the report done Monday or Tuesday.”
Of course I said yes! I love working on these kinds of little projects. They’re impactful for society, help the client do their work more effectively, allow me a lot of space for creativity (the more constraints, the more creative one can be), and are easy to turn around so focus doesn’t have to shift away from bigger projects for any significant period of time. All in all, it only took a few rounds and I wound up spending ~8 hours on the work itself, not including correspondence and admin time.
You can read more about the report on public-accountability.org. It might just blow your mind.
How the work happened
The good news was that Little Sis had a report from another time and they wanted this one to be modeled after it. They also had all the copy that they wanted included. It was organized and thoughtful, they even had the pull quotes set aside for me. This meant I could just focus on what I’m good at: design.
I started by scanning the internet for some additional inspiration. Since they wanted a cover with a graphic showing smoke stacks, it was easy to find good reference images.
I did a few quick sketches in my notebook. I was mostly considering how smoke stacks could be represented in a simplified way, given the simplicity of the report design from the year before. I wanted the cover design to be similar in that way. I also wanted to create some graphic elements that could be used throughout the report to highlight different sections. The design I landed on allowed me to do just that.
After that, I pulled some web fonts that I thought looked nice. You can see them listed above, beside my sketches. My criteria for fonts is usually:
- Compatibility —Do the body and heading fonts work well together? How well do the weights balance one another? Would they be friends if they met at a party?
- Legibility —Are the fonts legible and appropriate looking at the size they’ll be printed? Is the body font legible at a small size? Is the heading font too tall/wide/thin for the length of text it holds? Etc.
- Application —Do the fonts represent the tone and context of the work? Sans serif fonts look more modern, serif more formal, monospace more computer-like, and so on.
- Versatility —How much versatility do I have with the fonts? Do they come in one weight only, or are there many weights? Are there italics?
- Accessibility —If someone wanted to build a brand guide and/or website off of this, would the fonts be available to download? How much would they cost?
Here’s the final cover of the report, which set the graphic tone for the rest of the inner pages.
With some good fonts chosen and a cover designed, I was ready to go on layout. The first draft I did was far too long. I tend to design with a lot of white space, and Little Sis knew this would be for a press audience. The report had to be 18 pages or under. So after a little tweaking I was able to get it down to the right length for the audience.
I could probably write a whole book on what qualifies as appropriate for an audience and the role of design. But I’ll save that for another time.
There were a few charts that had to be made to accompany the report. I was able to build these two graphs in Illustrator and the table right inside InDesign. Both programs made this really easy. Here’s a beginner’s guide to graphs in Illustrator in case you want to play around.
Here are the ones I made:
The final report
At the end of it all, we came out with a really lovely, simple-to-read report that was both well designed and informative. I was very happy to work with Little Sis since I really admire and appreciate the work they do. Campaign finance and lobbying transparency is so important in these times.
Thanks to Derek and Kevin over at Little Sis for trusting us with this project!