How an infographic became an illustration

Francis Gagnon
November 3, 2021
Infographic presenting different visualizations about water scarcity

The latest project in our portfolio shows how an infographic request can lead to many places.

It started like most projects, with a report full of facts and figures about an important topic: the role of drinking water in conflict in the Middle East and North Africa.

The client came prepared with data and messages and it looked indeed like a few charts could fit the bill.

a composition of four slides containing a lot of texts

But upon a closer look, this data was about human tragedy and it wasn’t clear that a few computer-generated charts could quite convey the reality of these findings. Data is much more than numbers.

Estelle Villemin and I thought of approaching this with an illustration that would give a feel of the human experience. More precisely, we pitched the look and feel of a travel diary (something Estelle does when she travels and it’s wonderful! See an example below, on the right).

A board containing several illustrations as inspirations

My favourite moment of the production came when we realized that the model we used to show the colour palette looked a lot like the client!

Two members of the team are laughing with the client because the drawing they're presenting looks like him.

We even brought a sketch of the illustration to show how the messages would be distributed on the page, and to propose already a few ideas for approval.

A draft of the infographic with rough shapes and icons

With the collaboration of the client, we did some research on the reality of refugees in the Middle East to make sure that our illustrations would be accurate and respectful of the people.

Several images on a slide featuring photographs of people in camps.
Several images on a slide featuring photographs of people in camps.

We then got to work, placing the text, thinking about visuals, composition, etc.

For the titles, we couldn’t find a font that worked for us, so Estelle ended up handwriting them herself.

Draft of the infographic, with the texts only.

This is the first version that we shared with the client. I was surprised that Estelle created a unified scene as I had envisioned a collection of small ones. Her idea was much better.

The composition is there, the main elements too, but there’s a long way to balance the design for clarity.

Draft of the infographic with the text and the illustration placed.

Here is a time-lapse of part of the illustration development…

.. and here is the final version. 

Most notable changes are the placement of the brown band at the bottom to highlight certain data points and the testimonies and the landscape that has receded to place more emphasis on the illustrated data points.

Infographic composed of texts, an illustration, graphs and portraits

We used a mix of data illustration, like the people who represent “1 in 4” but also integrated graphs, like these water tanks reporting stats about water stress.

Zooms on two graphs: one represents a scene in a market, the other represents two barrels of water.

Sometimes, we also used normal charts, because we didn’t want it to become too gimmicky either.

A graph about demand for water

You can now see the project in all its glory in our portfolio

This is a topic impacting the lives of millions of vulnerable people, so we hope the important work by the World Bank will have a wide impact.

Picture of Francis Gagnon

Francis Gagnon

Francis Gagnon is an information designer and the founder of Voilà: (2013), a data visualization agency specialized in sustainable development.

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