Florence Nightingale spent two years during the Crimean war working at an Army hospital located in Scutari, Turkey. Despite her team’s efforts to keep their patients well fed and clean, thousands of soldiers died within months of their arrival. According to author Hugh Small, author of A Brief History of Florence Nightingale: and Her Real Legacy, a Revolution in Public Health, her work at Scutari was largely a failure (Small, 2010).

When she returned to England after the war, she was determined to address what had happened. She gathered statistics, wrote a report, and created a corresponding visual synopsis of what had happened there.


She used three colors to represent the deaths that occurred during that time:

  • red for deaths from battle wounds
  • blue for deaths caused by preventable or infectious diseases, and
  • black for deaths from all other causes

Her diagram clearly shows how more British soldiers died as a result of poor sanitation in hospitals than from battle wounds, evidenced by the greater amount of blue area versus red and black (Zymotic disease, 2019).

“She saw a clear relationship between the diseases killing her patients and the filth in which they lay, the air they breathed, the water they drank, and the food they ate. To Nightingale, the greatest tragedy of the Crimean War was the British Army’s failure, through bureaucratic inertia, to protect the soldiers’ health or to assist in their recovery” (Gill & Gill, 2005). 

She used her powerful diagram as a weapon in a political battle to encourage funding to improve sanitation conditions in British cities during the late 1800s.

Nightingale played a pivotal role in the 1875 Public Health Act, which required landlords to connect their dwellings to public sewer mains. It is estimated that this improvement in housing conditions contributed to a rise in average life expectancy, which increased from 40 to 60 years (Small, 2019).

Infographics vs. Data Visualization

Is Florence Nightingale’s famous diagram an infographic or a data visualization? The two terms are often used interchangeably, but there’s an important distinction. Let’s take a look at both.

In her article Getting it right: why infographics are not the same as data visualizations, user experience designer Valinda Chan provides the following definitions:

Infographics are visual representations of facts, events or numbers that reflect patterns and align to a story” (2017).

Data visualizations are visual representations of data abstracted into a schematic form so that the audience can more easily process the information and get a clear idea about the data at a glance” (2017). 

The bolded text is mine. Still confused? Let’s boil it down a little further.

  • Infographics tell a story.
  • Data visualizations present the data for your processing.

As Ms. Chan points out, the difference is subjective vs. objective.

“Infographics tell a premeditated story to guide the audience to conclusions (subjective). Data visualizations let the audience draw their own conclusions (objective)” (Chan, 2017).

That brings us back to my original question. Is Florence Nightingale’s graph an infographic or a data visualization?

Let’s look at some other inspiring examples that might help you decide.

Saving Lives

“Without oxygen, brain damage can occur in as little as 4 to 6 minutes” (U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d.).

In 1974, Dr. Henry Heimlich invented a procedure destined to save many lives. By using an abdominal thrust, a bystander can clear an object from a choking victim, allowing them to once again breathe freely. The procedure became widely known as the Heimlich maneuver.

In 1978, New York City Mayor Ed Koch signed into law a bill requiring restaurants to post “a sign graphically depicting the Heimlich maneuver or a comparable technique instructing how to dislodge food from a choking person” (Choking Victim; Poster—Social Design Notes, 2002).

NYC Mayor Ed Koch and Dr. Henry Heimlich demonstrate how a choking victim should signal for help (Farrington, 2016)

As a result of this legislation, this poster was created and distributed to restaurateurs at the time they received their New York City restaurant license. A similar version is still available today from New York City’s website.

According to Dr. Heimlich, his invention (and the accompanying instructions) has saved the lives of more than 50,000 people (Croft, 2016).

Do you think the poster is an infographic or data visualization?

Taking Action to Stop Sexual Harassment

“The experience of harassment can feel like choking” – Karen Liebowitz (Pesce, 2018).

According to a 2018 article in MoneyWatch, as many as 90% of women and 70% of men in the service industry “experience some form of sexual harassment” (Pesce, 2018). Restaurateur Karen Leibowitz and graphic artist Kelli Anderson co-created this public service announcement that provides advice for service industry workers who may be victims of sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment PSA created by Karen Leibowitz and Kelli Anderson

It lays out four points of action, accompanied by supporting text that provides specific advice on how to respond to sexual harassment in the workplace. The message is clear: you are not powerless.

“They toyed with including more text, or running a longer list of anything that could be considered sexual harassment, but realized the most effective PSA would be short and to the point” (Pesce, 2018).

Look familiar? It’s fashioned after the Heimlich choking poster; same colors, same layout, and similar fonts.

“We want people to do a double-take and to read it, instead of tuning it out” (Kelli Anderson, quoted in Pesce, 2018).

The creators have made this effective PSA available as a free download in both English and Spanish versions.

Infographic or data visualization?

Eradicating Malaria

For the past six years, Bill Gates has used his blog GatesNotes to bring attention to malaria. His goal? To eradicate Malaria worldwide.

Each April during “Mosquito Week” Gates provides up-to-date information and visuals to heighten awareness of the dangers of this deadly disease.

(Gates, 2014)

Did the large block of red at the bottom capture your attention? The artists’ choice to use red to represent the number of deaths by mosquitos tugs at you emotionally. According to Ellen Lupton in her book Design is Storytelling, “research suggests that reds, yellows, and oranges tend to prompt an activated, energized state of mind in users” (2017).

This visual also uses the Gestalt principle of simplicity. “The law of simplicity indicates that our mind perceives everything in its simplest form” (Bushe, 2015). The visuals tell us mosquitos are killing people — a lot of people.

A smaller version, posted on Gates’ Twitter account, is shown below. It’s a condensed visual synopsis designed specifically for social media, linking the user back to Gates’ blog.

The artist’s use of the mosquito successfully delivers a triple play of emotion for the viewer (Norman & Ortony, 2003):

  • visceral (wow, that’s a big mosquito)
  • behavioral (this problem is bigger than I thought)
  • reflective (this needs to be addressed)

In addition to his blog, Gates also shares his Mosquito Week campaign on YouTube and Instagram. Visuals abound.

” … a massive shift has happened in the way we communicate online, especially with Social Media.  We are now, in reality, using Visual Social Media to share our message” (Moritz, 2012).

What do you think? Infographic or data visualization?

Visuals in Academic Publications

Here’s another health-based example, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM).

As I was researching infographics for this post, the following search result appeared:

Entry number one is the journal article, while entry number two is classified as an infographic. The goal of the review was to “scope the literature and present what is known, and highlight what is not known, about walking and mental health” (Kelly et al., 2019).

Beside writing about the good news that there is “strong evidence that walking can prevent and treat depression and anxiety,” the authors of Walking on sunshine chose to include a visual synopsis to summarize their findings (Kelly et al., 2019).

Look closely at the bottom left hand corner. It reads:

This infographic is based on a scoping review of walking and mental health. We looked at 13,014 studies and analysed 50 of them. This was published in June 2018 in BJSM.

It’s clearly labelled as an infographic, but does it meet the criteria? Does it align to a story?

Best in Show

Is your breed of dog:

  • inexplicably overrated
  • rightly ignored
  • an overlooked treasure, or a
  • “hot dog”

Take a look and see where your dog ranks.

(McCandless, n.d.)

Here’s the criteria that was used to plot each breed that appears on the four part grid.

This one seems clear to me, but what do you think?

How Prepared Are They?

In this example, the artists used items commonly associated with college students to convey how well high schools had prepared college freshmen them for their college level studies.

(Hyperakt, n.d.)

This one’s a little trickier. Does it tell a specific story? Are they adequately prepared?

Visuals on a Smaller Scale

The Annals of Surgery is a monthly peer-reviewed medical journal of surgical science. In July 2016, the publication adopted the use of visual abstracts in an effort to improve dissemination of their publications (Ibrahim, Lillemoe, Klingensmith, & Dimick, 2017).

Visual abstracts are small scale graphics that provide a summary of the abstract portion of an article or professional journal. “Similar to the actual text abstract of a research article, it is meant to convey the key findings of the article in a shorter format” (Ibrahim, 2016).

Here’s an example based on a 2019 study that shows that women are more likely to be warned that they should avoid pursuing a career as a surgeon due to their gender.

Not surprisingly, visual abstracts are often used on social media. Here’s a screenshot of the Annals of Surgery’s Facebook page, which shows how visual abstracts are used to encourage their online community to keep abreast of current findings. A link to the journal article is, of course, included.

“To date, more than 75 journals and institutions have adopted the visual abstract in their dissemination strategy including the CDC, BMJ, JAMA and NEJM” (Ibrahim, 2016).

  • Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
  • British Medical Journal (BMJ)
  • Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
  • New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)

“The visual representation of science can increase both the engagement of fellow researchers [and] the public” (Cressey, 2014).

Story or data?

Let’s do one more. This one’s personal.

Mobilized for Safety

@French_gov – Image of the French government’s official Twitter account

Immediately after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, the French government issued this visual on social media. My daughter was living in Paris at the time, considering whether or not it was safe to attend the Republican marches scheduled for January 11th. A Facebook group from her school shared this message, originally issued on Twitter by the French government. Translated to English, the title reads 2,200 security personnel mobilized for your safety.

You don’t need to know how to read French to figure this out. You can see there will be:

  • 150 plain clothes policemen
  • 24 mobile units
  • 20 elite forces
  • 56 motorcycle units
  • 1350 military personnel
  • 2000 police officers

When my daughter saw this, she said it made her feel safe.

On January 11, 2015 she marched with an estimated 1.5 million people who joined world leaders in the unity rally (CNN Library, 2018). You can check out a stunning photo essay of the march here.

Last one. What do you think?

Persuasion or Information?

“Infographics, even the ones that have cold, hard facts at their core, resemble marketing more closely than they do science, and depend more on classical techniques of rhetoric (the art of persuasion) than on more abstract appeals to reason” (Hart, 2013).

In short, Hart believes that infographics persuade.

Which visual examples were designed to persuade you? Here’s my list.

  1. Florence Nightingale’s Diagram of the Causes of Mortality
  2. New York City’s Choking Poster
  3. Leibowitz and Anderson’s Sexual Harassment Poster
  4. Bill Gates’ World’s Deadliest Animals
  5. The French government’s Mobilized for Safety announcement

Nightingale’s diagram, along with Gates’ poster and the French Safety message may look like data visualizations, but I don’t believe they are. Based on their back stories, we know their visuals were designed to send a persuasive message.

  • Florence Nightingale created her diagram to fight a political battle.
  • Bill Gates aims to raise awareness about Malaria.
  • The French government sent a message of safety after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Pure Data

Ready or Not, Here I Am tells you college freshmens’ opinions on how well high school prepared them for college. It’s eye catching and interesting, but it’s data, pure and simple. No rhetoric.

The same applies to Barriers to Pursuing a Career in Surgery. It tells a story of how women in medicine struggle with stereotypes, but it’s not designed to make you take action.

Less Clear

The last two are head scratchers.

According to the written abstract, the objective of the review that resulted in the Walking for Mental Health visual was this:

“We aimed to scope the literature and present what is known, and highlight what is not known, about walking and mental health” (Kelly et al., 2019).

Their conclusion?

“The evidence base that suggests walking benefits mental health is growing, but remains fragmented and incomplete for some important outcomes. Policy and national guidelines should promote the known mental health benefits of increased walking and future research should directly address the gaps we have identified” (Kelly et al., 2019).

It hasn’t been distributed beyond publication in the BJSM, so it doesn’t appear that it was designed to be persuasive. I think it’s a data visualization, but it also sends a message that could be interpreted as persuasive.

That leaves Best in Show.

At face value, it does not appear to be persuasive. You might consult the visualization the next time you’re in the market, but its intent is not to make you run out and buy a dog.

The fact that it was sponsored by the American Kennel Club, however, implies they might like you to consider buying a purebred dog the next time you consider bringing a four-legged companion into your home. Hard to tell.

Catalysts for Change

We can argue about what category they fall into, but I think you’ll agree that infographics and data visualizations are powerful vehicles that can serve as catalysts for change.

Text and numbers “cannot convey information in as memorable or digestible form as that of successful visual-based storytelling” (Losowsky, 2011, as cited in Klanten, Ehmann, & Schulze, 2011).

The visual examples we explored effectively used design principles to captivate their viewer’s attention. Whether it’s intentional or not, they can inspire us to take action, take control of a difficult situation, or support an important cause.

Florence Nightingale’s Message

(BBC Four, 2010)

“There are some very important problems that don’t get worked on naturally. That is, the market does not drive the scientists, the communicators, the thinkers, the governments to do the right things. And only by paying attention to these things, and having brilliant people who care and draw other people in can we make as much progress as we need to” (Gates, 2013).

until nxt time …


Annals of Surgery—Home. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/annalsofsurgery/?__tn__=%2Cd%2CP-R&eid=ARBq9oL-hZUGDdeN_BaC8tVRhbHbQeAO-iB4OY-xFH_UiWGwuFKAk020YMbAunDKrb4UJl6VZQ5UpPDu

BBC Four. (2010). Florence Nightingale’s diagram. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3y-Nhlhkpg&t=2s

Bushe, L. (2015, October 5). Simplicity, symmetry and more: Gestalt theory and the design principles it gave birth to. Retrieved from: https://www.canva.com/learn/gestalt-theory/ (Modile 2)

CNN Library (2018, December 24). 2015 Charlie Hebdo Attacks Fast Facts. Retrieved from: https://www.cnn.com/2015/01/21/europe/2015-paris-terror-attacks-fast-facts/index.html

Chan, V. (2017, June 13). Getting it right: Why infographics are not the same as data visualizations. Retrieved from: https://blog.prototypr.io/getting-it-right-why-infographics-are-not-the-same-as-data-visualizations-a23da7de745e

Chandler, V. (2019, November 19). Women more likely to be warned away from surgery careers due to gender. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-education-idUSKBN1XT2UN

Choking Victim; Poster—Social Design Notes. (2002, August 16). Retrieved from: https://backspace.com/notes/2002/08/choking-victim-poster.php

Creedon, A. (2014, May 1). Forget Sharks! Gates Draws Blood (and Attention) with Mosquito Week. Retrieved from: https://nonprofitquarterly.org/forget-sharks-gates-draws-blood-and-attention-with-mosquito-week/

Cressey, D. (2014, March 19). Infographics: Truth is beauty. Nature 507, 304–305 (2014) doi:10.1038/507304a

Croft, J. (2016, December 19). Heimlich maneuver inventor dies at 96. Retrieved from: https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/17/us/henry-heimlich-dies-invented-maneuver-to-save-people-from-choking/index.html

Darling, K. (n.d.). What Is an Infographic? And How Is it Different from a Data Visualization? Retrieved from: https://visme.co/blog/what-is-an-infographic/

Duffy, D. (n.d.). Restaurants and the Heimlich Maneuver. Retrieved from: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2004/rpt/2004-R-0596.htm

Farrington, D. (2016, May 28). Dr. Heimlich Uses His Maneuver At Retirement Home, Saves 87-Year-Old Woman. Retrieved from: https://www.wgbh.org/news/2016/05/27/dr-heimlich-uses-his-maneuver-retirement-home-saves-87-year-old-woman

Gates, B. (2013). Mosquitos, malaria and education—Bill Gates—YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLkbWUNQbgk

Gates, B. (2014, April 25). The Deadliest Animal in the World. Retrieved from: https://www.gatesnotes.com/Health/Most-Lethal-Animal-Mosquito-Week

Gates, B. (2014, April 29). Hey @SharkWeek, sharks are cool, but they’re not even close to being the deadliest animal: Http://b-gat.es/1itPGLY pic.twitter.com/aWjbnw46N4 [Tweet]. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from @BillGates website: https://twitter.com/BillGates/status/461143337228324864?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E461143337228324864&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fnonprofitquarterly.org%2Fforget-sharks-gates-draws-blood-and-attention-with-mosquito-week%2F

Gates, B. (2017, August 17). Bill Gates on Instagram: “#TBT to the time I willingly let mosquitoes drink my blood. Visit the link in my bio to learn more about the progress we’re making against….” Retrieved from: https://www.instagram.com/p/BX5ca4olbho/

Gates, B. (2019, April 15). These maps could point the way to stopping malaria. Retrieved from: https://www.gatesnotes.com/Health/These-maps-could-point-the-way-to-eradicating-malaria

Giantini Larsen, A. M., Pories, S., Parangi, S., & Robertson, F. C. (2019). Barriers to Pursing a Career in Surgery: An Institutional Survey of Harvard Medical School Students. Annals of Surgery, Publish Ahead of Print. https://doi.org/10.1097/SLA.0000000000003618

Gill, C. J., & Gill, G. C. (2005). Nightingale in Scutari: Her Legacy Reexamined. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 40(12), 1799–1805. https://doi.org/10.1086/430380

Hart, G. (2013, June 3). Effective Infographics: Telling Stories in the Tech Comm Context. Retrieved from: https://techwhirl.com/effective-infographics-telling-stories-in-the-technical-communication-context/

Heimlich maneuver inventor dies in Cincinnati. (2016, December 17). Retrieved December 5, 2019, from WCPO website: https://www.wcpo.com/news/local-news/hamilton-county/cincinnati/dr-henry-heimlich-inventor-of-famed-anti-choking-heimlich-maneuver-dies

Hyperakt. (n.d.). Ready Or Not, Here I Am | Visual.ly. Retrieved from /community/infographic/education/ready-or-not-here-i-am

Ibrahim, A. M. (2016, December). Visual Abstract. Retrieved from: https://www.surgeryredesign.com/resources

Ibrahim, A. M., Lillemoe, K. D., Klingensmith, M. E., & Dimick, J. B. M. (2017, December). Visual Abstracts to Disseminate Research on Social Media: A Prospective, Case-control Crossover Study. Annals of Surgery266(6). https://doi.org/10.1097/SLA.0000000000002277

Kelly, P., Williamson, C., Hunter, R., Niven, A. G., Mutrie, N., & Richards, J. (2019). [Infographic]. Walking on sunshine: Scoping review of the evidence for walking and mental health. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53(14), 903. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-100289

Klanten, R., Ehmann, S., & Schulze, F. (2011). Visual Storytelling: Inspiring a New Visual Language. Gestalten. (Module 3)

Lupton, E. (2017). Design is Storytelling. New York, NY: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. (Module 2)

McCandless, D. (n.d.). Best in Show – What’s the best dog breed, according to data? – Information is Beautiful. Retrieved from: https://informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/best-in-show-whats-the-top-data-dog

Moritz, D. (2012, December 15). The Shift to Visual Social Media—6 Tips for Business [Infographic]. Retrieved from: https://sociallysorted.com.au/shift-to-visual-social-media-6-tips-for-business-infographic/ (Module 5)

Norman, D.A. & Ortony, A. (2003). Design and Users: Two perspectives on emotion and design, Foundations of Interaction Design, Ivrea, Italy, November 2003. (Module 2)

Pesce, N. L. (2018, May 13). The women behind this viral new sexual harassment PSA tell Moneyish why they drew from those choking posters—MarketWatch. Retrieved from: https://www.marketwatch.com/amp/story/guid/AE9F7214-94F2-4EC4-8C59-0E00F7F51904

Radiolab. (2013, March 5). An Illustrated History of Heimlich | Radiolab. Retrieved from: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/273556-illustrated-history-heimlich

Radiolab Podcast. (2016). Radiolab – Shorts: The Man Behind the Maneuver [Henry Heimlich]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKRhhKU7JmE

Reuters. (2016, December 19). Henry Heimlich, Developer Of Maneuver To Save Choking Victims, Dead At 96. Retrieved from: https://www.news18.com/news/lifestyle/health-and-fitness-henry-heimlich-developer-of-maneuver-to-save-choking-victims-dead-at-96-1324755.html

Small, H. (2010, October 7). Did Nightingale’s ‘Rose Diagram’ save millions of lives? Retrieved from: http://www.florence-nightingale-avenging-angel.co.uk/?p=462

Small, H. (2019, December 1). Her wartime hospital. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLnveZHaGXU2lRMH9Y0bjq1X9DVD0MBaYE&time_continue=507&v=JcwiJT4hX4o&feature=emb_logo

Sweet, V. (2014, March 3). Far More Than a Lady With a Lamp. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/04/health/florence-nightingales-wisdom.html

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Abdominal thrusts: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000047.htm

Zymotic disease. (2019). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Zymotic_disease&oldid=904866960

Header image by Michael Schwarzenberger from Pixabay


It’s challenging to find good stock photos. I’ve noticed recently that they’re SLOWLY getting better, but most of them still don’t look authentic. And most of us continue to use them because we just don’t have the time or funds to procure something better.

Some images are easier to find than others.

  • Happy business person? Pretty easy.
  • Hard working team? Lots of those.

But did you ever notice how hard it is to find a realistic photo of a person with a surprised look on their face?

As you can see from the Google search captured in the photo above, there are a lot of choices — but I wouldn’t call any of them authentic.

What does “surprised” look like?

In the stock photography world, surprise usually looks like this.

Wide eyes and an open mouth, with fingertips lightly touching the lips.

Or like this.

Now I don’t know about you, but in my humble opinion, these photos aren’t exactly dripping with emotion.

And what about the open mouth thing? Is that real? According to Janine Drivers, president of the Body Language Institution in Washington, D.C., it is.

” … although the hand-over-mouth gesture isn’t a universal form of expression, opening our mouths in an oval shape and raising our eyebrows is something we can’t control” (Broderick, 2011).

So the search continues.

This one gives me some hope.

Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy from Pexels

Although it’s clearly posed, she’s a bit more surprised than the models in the first two photographs.

How about this one?

Image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay

I don’t know if she always looks this surprised when she gets out of the shower (and I don’t believe in vampires) but those lips are frightening. And that pointy tooth on the upper right hand side of her mouth scares me.

How about something more artistic?

Image by prettysleepy1 from Pixabay

Interesting, but it isn’t really appropriate for most work projects.

Capturing a Moment

The good news is that you CAN find good photos — it is possible. It just takes time, patience, and a little bit of judicial cropping. You have to look for photos that capture a moment.

Here are some great “surprised” photos I found using Unsplash and Pixabay, sources for free stock photos. They’re authentic because the photographer captured a moment, which reveals the subject’s personality (Gitner, 2016).

Photo by Andre Guerra on Unsplash
Image by quentcourtois0 from Pixabay
Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay

Sorry, I couldn’t resist including the monkey.

Embedded images from Getty

Getty has great photos which are, of course, expensive. After all, you get what you pay for.

But did you know that some of their photographs can be embedded at NO COST? You can use their embedded viewer on a website, blog or social media platform.

Here are some examples:

Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

You can go to Getty’s website to get the skinny.

Have a little money to spend?

Check out Death to Stock. It’s an artist-owned co-op that promises its authentic photos will keep your brand intact.

“I believe that successful brands are built on three things: credibility, relevance and differentiation. Cheesy stock photos can hurt you in all three areas … ” (BN Branding, 2017).

No kickbacks here — I just think it’s a great alternative, especially for small business owners.


“The problem with stock photography isn’t the photography, it’s the judgement of the person choosing the image. There are great shots to be found, so either spend a lot more time refining your search, or hire someone to get the right shot for the job to begin with” (BN Branding, 2017). 

So the next time you need a good photo, take the time to dig deeper. You may just surprise yourself and find a hidden gem.

until nxt time …


BN Branding. (2017, May 15). How stock photos can hurt your brand image—Beware of visual clichés. Retrieved from: https://bnbranding.com/brandinsightblog/stock-photos-and-brand-image/

Broderick, B. (2011, August 18). Please keep touching your face. Retrieved from: https://www.prosek.com/unboxed-thoughts/please-keep-touching-your-face/

Fletcher, J. (2016, December 23). 8 alternatives to generic stock photography to help improve your bounce rate. Retrieved from: https://edit.co.uk/blog/8-alternatives-generic-stock-photography-help-improve-bounce-rate/

Gitner, S. (2016). Multimedia Storytelling for Digital Communicators in a Multiplatform World. New York: Routledge.

Jezouit, B. (2017, June 25). Are You Guilty of Using These Stock Photo Cliches? Retrieved from: https://envato.com/blog/guilty-using-stock-photo-cliches/

Royalty Free Stock Photos, Illustrations, Vector Art, and Video Clips—Getty Images. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.gettyimages.com/

Header photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels


It was a simple conversation with my daughter, but one I didn’t expect.

“Would you like to go to Pakistan with me?” she asked. I replied “That would be cool.”

Turns out I’m not the only one who thinks so.

In a Forbes article published last December, Ann Abel named Pakistan as one of The 10 Coolest Places to Visit in 2019.

And so, I am preparing for a trip to a place about which I know very little. In anticipation of the trip (and in order to pack properly) I decided to learn a little bit about Pakistan’s geography and climate. If you’re interested, read on and I’ll share some interesting visuals that helped me learn more about this interesting country in South Asia.


Let’s start with a video from Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence organization based in Austin, Texas. The video begins with a fully-labelled map. The labels then disappear and single labels reappear as the video highlights each point of interest. This “decluttering” method helps convey the information and keep the audience fully engaged (Dennison, 2017).

The video also layers photographs of specific destinations, giving the viewer a more complete view of the landscapes described.

Pakistan is bordered by four countries, and is geographically diverse. Geographic areas include the:

  • Himalayan Mountains and Hindu Kush Range in the north
  • Balochistan Plateau in the southwest
  • Thar Desert in the south
  • 650-mile coast line along the Arabian Sea
  • Indus River

Speaking of borders, check out this photo of the boundary between India and Pakistan, taken by an astronaut on the International Space Station. To me, it’s a beautiful blend of science, technology and art, similar to the work performed at NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio (SVS).

“This photograph shows one of the few places on Earth where an international boundary can be seen at night. The winding border between Pakistan and India is lit by security lights that have a distinct orange tone” (NASA Earth Observatory, 2015).

(NASA Earth Observatory, 2015)


This map from the American Institute of Pakistan Studies does a great job showing how Pakistan’s regions are configured. “The country is divided into four provinces, one territory, and one capital territory for local administration” (Briney, 2019).


Take note of the inset in the bottom right hand corner of the map. The red text beneath it, as well as the corresponding red text in the Jammu & Kashmir section at the top of the map, describe a dispute over ownership between India and Pakistan.

According to Wikipedia, “the Instrument of Accession is a legal document executed by Maharaja Hari Singh, ruler of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, on 26 October 1947. … India claims that the accession is unconditional and final while Pakistan maintains that the accession is fraudulent” (n.d.).

“Red color, used sparingly, can serve to highlight or draw attention to certain components of a visual element” (Dennison, 2017).

The infographic below, by visual designer Asma Javeri, uses a green map and large icons to give his viewers some high-level information about the length of the coastline (1,046 km), types of terrain, climate, natural hazards, and natural resources. Green is used intentionally for the map and title, mimicking the color of the Pakistani flag.

Geography of Pakistan by Asma Javeri
Pakistani flag


Because Pakistan’s topography is diverse, climates vary across the country. The north has an arctic climate, it’s temperate in the northwest, but most of the country is hot and dry (Briney, 2019).

According to Sardar Sarfaraz from the University of Karachi, “Pakistan is the only country in the world to have a unique range of altitudes from sea level to the second highest mountain peak of the world. This distinct characteristic gives it large variation in climate across its different areas, like huge temperature differences and large spatial rainfall distribution” (Sarafaraz, Arsalan, & Fatima, 2014).

The color coded map below by Ali Zifan gives a more precise account of the variety of climates in Pakistan. Notice how the artist uses red for the warmest climate, evoking the emotion of being hot.

“Designers explore color’s cultural context, narrative content, and psychological effects in order to alter the meaning of an image, environment, or product — and change its impact on users” (Lupton, 2017).

(Zifan, 2016)

“Colors can help tie different components together by grouping by color borders or having the color in a graph correspond to the color of a map location” (Dennison, 2017).

I am headed to the city of Lahore, which falls within the upper right hand side of the map to the far right of the orange band. Its climate is designated as warm semi-arid, or semi-dry.

Lahore Weather Forecast

Just below you’ll see a screenshot from the BBC’s website for today, December 8, 2019.

(BBC, 2019)

This interactive display allows you to click on a specific day and see the hour by hour forecast on the bottom half of the screen. The BBC uses brightly colored icons to give the viewer the daily forecast; a sun, clouds, rain, and a lightning bolt quickly convey the information — no narrative required.

The 14-day forecast calls for temperatures that range from as high as 22 degrees to as low as 6 degrees Celsius. For those of you who only speak Fahrenheit, that’s roughly 71 to 43 degrees — so I’m thinking spring-like weather, but without the rain.

I definitely need to pack a light jacket.

Smog Season

So far so good, right? Except for smog season, which runs from October to February.

The cause?

” … poor fuel quality, uncontrolled emissions and crop burning worsens the quality of the already unhealthy air in eastern Punjab Province, where Lahore is the capital” (Babar & Ahmed, 2019).

In this visual story, photographer Arif Ali captured the gravity of the challenges Pakistan grapples with when it comes to air quality. These school children, some of them masked, walk through the smog that engulfed the city of Lahore in November of 2017.

Pakistani children walk to school in heavy smog in Lahore on November 6, 2017. (ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty Images)

Lahore’s challenges with air pollution continue to plague the city. A photo essay from November 22nd of this year visually documents the severity of the situation. It can be viewed here.

“Photo essays are often used to show how extensive an event is — how much damage was done, how much effort something takes, how people are coping” (Shurbaji, 2014).

The Bigger Story

When I began preparing for my trip, I wasn’t necessarily thinking about visuals. But as you can see, the video, maps, and photographs I found tell the bigger story of Pakistan. Some things are good, some are challenging.

” … visuals are more than just an aesthetic element. They help us tell better stories” (Dahmen, 2017).

The Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation’s website was created to promote the beauty of Pakistan and encourage tourism. They use strong visuals to do so, and I encourage you to take a look.

(Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, n.d.)

” … there are endless ways to create tourism offerings that both speak to the public and capitalize on the best of what a country has to offer” (Alton, 2018).

It’s true. But I believe visual storytelling is the best way.

And yes, despite the fact that it is “smog season,” I’m still going to Pakistan.

Don’t worry, I’ll bring back pictures to share.

until nxt time …


Abel, A. (2018, December 12). The 10 Coolest Places to Go in 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/annabel/2018/12/12/the-10-coolest-places-to-go-in-2019/

Ali, A. (2017, November 6). Pakistani children walk to school in heavy smog in Lahore on November… Retrieved from: https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/pakistani-children-walk-to-school-in-heavy-smog-in-lahore-news-photo/870819322

Alton, L. (2018, October 1). How the travel industry is using visual storytelling to bring its economic impact into clear view. Retrieved from: https://www.skyword.com/contentstandard/how-the-travel-industry-is-using-visual-storytelling-to-bring-its-economic-impact-into-clear-view/ (Module 6)

Babar, Z., & Ahmed, M. (2019, November 22). Rights group draws attention to heavy smog in Pakistan. Retrieved from: https://apnews.com/f9ba45081994420498bad16a83e179b6

BBC. (2019, December 8). Lahore. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/weather/1172451 14-day weather forecast for Lahore.

Behance. (n.d.). Infographics Pakistan- Geography. Retrieved from: https://www.behance.net/gallery/1600255/Infographics-Pakistan-Geography Info-graphic: Geography of Pakistan 2011

Briney, A. (2019, September 1). What do you know about the geography of Pakistan? Retrieved from: https://www.thoughtco.com/geography-of-pakistan-1435275

Cicolu. S. (2010, August 23). “Pakistan – a snapshot”. Retrieved from: https://fostergram.files.wordpress.com/2019/12/1e18a-pakistan.jpg

Dahmen, N. (2017, November 22). How to do better visual journalism for solutions stories. Retrieved from: http://mediashift.org/2017/11/visually-reporting-solutions-stories-newsrooms-classrooms/

Dennison, B. (2017, March 28). Practical visual literacy for science communication « IAN/EcoCheck Blog. Retrieved from: https://ian.umces.edu/blog/2017/03/28/practical-visual-literacy-for-science-communication/ (Module 6)

Geography | American Institute of Pakistan Studies. (n.d.). Retrieved December 7, 2019, from http://www.pakistanstudies-aips.org/pakistan/geography

Gitner, S. (2016). Multimedia storytelling for digital communicators in a multiplatform world. New York: Routledge. (Module 1)

Kostis, H.-N., & Cohen, D. (2012, July 17). Scientific Visualization: Where art meets science and technology | APPEL Knowledge Services. Retrieved from: https://appel.nasa.gov/2012/07/17/47s_art_sci_tech-html/ (Module 6)

Kwan-Liu Ma, Liao, I., Frazier, J., Hauser, H., & Kostis, H.-N. (2012). Scientific storytelling using visualization. IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, 32(1), 12–19. https://doi.org/10.1109/MCG.2012.24

Lahore. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.arrivalguides.com/en/Travelguides/Asia/Pakistan/Lahore?utm_source=FacebookShare%20Destination&utm_campaign=Email%20download%20shared&utm_medium=Facebook%20Post&utm_term=LAHORE&utm_content=en

Lupton, E. (2017). Design is Storytelling. New York, NY: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. (Module 2)

NASA Earth Observatory. (2015, October 5). India-Pakistan border at night. Retrieved from: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/86725/india-pakistan-border-at-night

Pakistan’s Geographic Challenge. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WN7mNEQ7s58

Pakistan’s Geography, Climate, and Environment. (2011, February 10). Retrieved from: https://insider.pk/national/pakistans-geography-climate-and-environment/

Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. (n.d.). Welcome to Pakistan. Retrieved from: http://www.tourism.gov.pk/

Sarfaraz, S., Arsalan, M. H., & Fatima, H. (2014). Regionalizing the climate of Pakistan using KÖPPEN classification system. Pakistan Geographical Review, 69(2), 111–132.

Shurbaji, E. (2014, December 17). Photo narratives. Retrieved from: https://medium.com/learning-journalism-tech/photo-narratives-d77b812f99dd (Module 4)

Stratfor. (2016). Pakistan’s Geographic Challenge. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WN7mNEQ7s58

Toppa, S. (2018, February 26). As residents of Lahore choke on air pollution, Pakistani officials dawdle. Retrieved from: https://undark.org/2018/02/26/pakistan-lahore-air-pollution/

Zifan, A. (2016). English: Pakistan map of Köppen climate classification. Retrieved from :https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pakistan_map_of_K%C3%B6ppen_climate_classification.svg

Header photo by Nazim Laghari on Unsplash


until nxt time …


10 steps to creating the perfect infographic. (2014, March 27). Retrieved from: https://www.creativebloq.com/design/10-steps-creating-perfect-infographic-3145672

Annals of Surgery—Home. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/annalsofsurgery/?__tn__=%2Cd%2CP-R&eid=ARBq9oL-hZUGDdeN_BaC8tVRhbHbQeAO-iB4OY-xFH_UiWGwuFKAk020YMbAunDKrb4UJl6VZQ5UpPDu

Chan, V. (2017, June 13). Getting it right: Why infographics are not the same as data visualizations. Retrieved November 23, 2019, from Medium website: https://blog.prototypr.io/getting-it-right-why-infographics-are-not-the-same-as-data-visualizations-a23da7de745e

Denton, M. (2013, March 8). Why Sitting is Killing You. Retrieved from: https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/why-sitting-is-killing-you.html

Giantini Larsen, A. M., Pories, S., Parangi, S., & Robertson, F. C. (2019). Barriers to Pursing a Career in Surgery: An Institutional Survey of Harvard Medical School Students. Annals of Surgery, Publish Ahead of Print. https://doi.org/10.1097/SLA.0000000000003618

Graphical Abstracts (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.elsevier.com/authors/journal-authors/graphical-abstract

Ibrahim, A. M. M., Lillemoe, K. D., Klingensmith, M. E., & Dimick, J. B. M. (2017). Visual Abstracts to Disseminate Research on Social Media: A Prospective, Case-control Crossover Study. Annals of Surgery, 266(6). https://doi.org/10.1097/SLA.0000000000002277

Klanten, R., Ehmann, S., & Schulze, F. (2011). Visual Storytelling: Inspiring a New Visual Language. Gestalten. (Module 1)

McCandless, D. (n.d.). Best in Show – What’s the Best Dog Breed, According to Data? —Information is Beautiful. Retrieved from: https://informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/best-in-show-whats-the-top-data-dog/

McCandless, D. (n.d.). The Hollywood In$ider. Retrieved from: https://informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/the-hollywood-insider/

Ready Or Not , Here I Am [INFOGRAPHIC]. (2012, March 3). Retrieved from : https://infographiclist.com/2012/03/03/ready-or-not-here-i-am-infographic/

“Show me.” The Economist 27 Feb. 2010: 14(US). Business Insights: Essentials. Web. 29 Nov. 2019.

Venngage. (2018). The 9 Types of Infographics [TIPS AND EXAMPLES]—YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tN8_85gKOTc

Vital, A. (2014, October 16). How Steve Jobs Started—Infographic Biography. Retrieved November 24, 2019, from Adioma website: https://blog.adioma.com/how-steve-jobs-started-infographic/

Women more likely to be warned away from surgery careers due to gender. (2019, November 19). Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-education-idUSKBN1XT2UN


I live in the suburbs. It’s a beautiful place, but I must confess that I am a city girl at heart. Since I live in Pennsylvania, you probably think the city I’m talking about is the City of Brotherly Love. But you’re wrong.

For me it’s New York. Always has been. Always will.

I love New York City. I still remember the first trip I made with my mom and dad to see a Broadway show. As we were traveling toward the city on a regional train, my dad regaled the wonders that awaited when we arrived.

My dad loved the energy of the city, and dutifully passed his passion on to me. Many years later I couldn’t wait to follow in my father’s footsteps and share that love with my daughter.

So when I get the chance to visit NYC, I jump at it.


The Q train was a good choice. My lovely niece and I were meeting my daughter and her fiancé for an appointment to check out a wedding venue, and we were running behind. It’s amazing how fast an express train can get you uptown.

As we got off the train there was a jug band playing bluegrass music. I love the buskers you see when you visit the city. They call themselves Coyote & Crow, and even though we were a little late we made a brief stop to listen and drop a few dollars in their donation box.

We headed up the escalator to the street as they continued their song. You’ll do best not to cry when I die. Funny how a sad song can somehow be comforting. We were listening to a slice of bluegrass music as we moved slowly up to 86th Street. I didn’t mind the slow pace. More time to listen.

It’s a beautiful fall day. You can see the sprinkling of leaves on the street. The colder weather came early this year, and some of the trees aren’t quite sure whether they should shed their leaves just yet. As we headed west we spied an interesting truck parked across the street, so we decided to take a closer look.

The artist is Nicholi Khan, a Trinidad native who came to live in New York in the mid eighties. This movable canvas shows a scantily clad Disneyesque girl spray-painted on the side. Two young school girls pass by without a glance, entranced with their after school ice cream cones. You can see more of Khan’s art at #ThinkNYC or on his website. On our next trip perhaps we’ll visit the MoSA (Museum of Street Art) to get another fix of this fascinating art form.

This is a beautiful outfit its benefactor will quickly outgrow. It graces the window of Bonpoint, an expensive French-based children’s shop. Modern golden slippers remind me I am not in my neighborhood. I found out later that Shiloh Jolie-Pitt is a fan. Gold is definitely the theme here.

No matter where I go or how busy I am, I always stop to admire God’s creatures. I must admit I felt sorry for this poor kitty, who seemed unhappily trapped inside his upper east side “prison.” Unlike this four-footed resident, I am free to wander about. I hope he gets the opportunity to do the same someday.

It’s time for a coffee stop, but I can’t resist taking a picture of this spritely lady. As you can see, her dog definitely wants to stop and say hello to the other puppy. If I was more fond of pink I might imagine that she foreshadows my future self. Is she a resident or a visiting dog walker? Hard to tell. Either way she’s enjoying the day.

I couldn’t resist. His owner granted me permission to pet his silky fur, which he seemed to enjoy. Besides, it’s good therapy and good manners to say hello.

What a unique place; restaurant by day, wine bar by night (5:30 to be exact). It’s called Eli’s Essentials and Wine Bar, and we’re headed inside. That’s Eli as in Eli Zabar, as in the famous Manhattan delicatessen. He owns the place, and actually lives around the corner. You can read more about Eli here. Time for coffee.

The gentleman behind the counter prepared the hot coffee and delivered it with a smile. If you prefer a cooler drink, you can get iced coffee or tea from these giant urns. Look closely and you’ll see the wine bottles and glasses lined up in the background, readying themselves for the evening clientele.

As we make our way upstairs to find a seat, clever messages entice me to come back for a more serious beverage. My favorite is “Last night, a sommelier saved my life.” A nice glass of wine always makes life seem a little easier 🙂

As I snap this picture, a elderly lady ponders her purchase. This refrigerated case holds just a few of the tasty offerings at Eli’s. I imagine that she lives close by and is just stopping to pick up a few things before dinner. Lucky her to have this unique place in her neighborhood.

This view from the second floor showcases a beautiful round light in the foreground. I’m guessing the globe creates a moonlit effect in the evening when it’s dark outside. But we must be moving on. Perhaps we’ll stop for a macaron on the way home so I can see if I am right.

An impatient taxi waiting for the light to change sits next to a parked BMW. The license plate reveals its owner’s status: Park Avenue. My daughter and her fiancé are waiting up ahead.

We still had time before our appointment, so we wandered into Central Park, arriving just in time to watch the sunset. The reflection of the west side glimmered in the background as a fellow traveler stopped to rest. The leaves on the west side trees created a colorful backdrop for this peaceful scene.

At this point we paused to enjoy the view. The busyness of the city seemed to be on hold here as we drank in the pleasant fall air. Life is good when you spend it with family and friends. Especially in the greatest city in the world. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

until nxt time …


Becker, M. (2014, November 5). How Petting a Dog Benefits the Pooch—And You. Retrieved November 17, 2019, from http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/how-petting-a-dog-benefits-the-pooch-and-you

Eli’s Essentials 91st Madison. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1oFNX0x68PkVbxihJ4D_r7YHQ5lo

Friedlander, R. (2014, May 28). Meet the Woman That Dresses Shiloh Jolie-Pitt. ELLE. Retrieved from https://www.elle.com/news/fashion-style/bonpoint-interview-innamorato

MoSA | Museum of Street Art | citizenM. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.citizenm.com/mosa

Nicholai Khan. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.nicholaikhan.com

nicholikhan [#ThinkNYC]. 2018, August 1. Retrieved from: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bl8DkYJlca8/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Shurbaji, E. (2014, December 17). Photo narratives. Retrieved from: https://medium.com/learning-journalism-tech/photo-narratives-d77b812f99dd (Module 4)

Tegue, L. (2015, April 23). What to Eat and Drink, According to Eli Zabar—WSJ. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-to-eat-and-drink-according-to-eli-zabar-1429826479


IMPORTANT NOTE: If you haven’t done so already, stop now and read UPTOWN TO 86th STREET. This blog post is the story behind the story.

“Presenting a story through photography communicates a different — often deeper — understanding of person, place, event or narrative than can be expressed through written or spoken word” (Shurbaji, 2014).

How do you write a photo essay about a simple trip from one part of the city to another and make it interesting? You start by bringing your camera, which is a cellphone for me these days.

I was headed to a venue in uptown Manhattan, but my goal was to capture my journey, not the destination. Here are seven tips that will help you gather the shots you need to tell your own visual story.

TIP #1: Practice ahead of time.

Reuter’s photographer Damir Sagolj recommends that you “play and shoot” with your camera a lot BEFORE you are capturing your images. That way you’ll be ready to capture the “moments” when they arrive (Thomson Reuters Foundation (2013).

TIP #2: Take more photos than you think you need.

I took a lot of photos … almost 200. My goal was to use around ten, but I ended up with so many I liked that I used seventeen. Too many good pictures is a good problem to have.

Here’s one I loved but didn’t use. We heard him at the end of the day on the journey downtown.

TIP #3: Be flexible.

Initially I anticipated that I would begin shooting once we got out of the subway station, but when I saw the buskers I knew I had to capture them for the story. Remember that you’re trying to capture moments, and they can happen at any time. Maybe even before you’ve started.

TIP #4: Use as many interesting angles as you can.

I took a lot of shots, but the best one happened while I was laying on the ground. Be brave, and don’t wear your best clothes.

TIP #5: Aim to capture emotions whenever possible.

” … images need to capture slice-of-life moments that anyone taking a look can connect to what they’re seeing in some way” (Worth 1,000 Words: The 4 Principles of Visual Storytelling, 2017).

When I took this photo I wasn’t really sure how it would fit into my story, but I loved the look on this young woman’s face. It seemed to me that she had come to the park for a specific reason, and she was glad to be there. Like me, she was drinking in the scenery and the beautiful fall weather.

TIP #6: Be invisible.

At times, you may be entering people’s personal space. Be careful not to destroy the moment you’re trying to capture. Try to get your shot as quickly as possible (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2013).

TIP #7: Be nice.

Ask before you shoot, be respectful, and make sure you’re not compromising someone’s privacy.

“We are talking visual journalism here, which continues to involve the use of photos, videos, infographics, but not as an appendix to the story, but woven into the texture of it” (Garcia, 2017).

It’s not just about the photos

In his article WED: The Integration of Writing/Editing/Design, Ron Reason explains the concept of WED. It’s a philosophy that was developed at the Poynter Institute, a well-known journalism school. The name was coined by two of their faculty, Dr. Mario Garcia and Roy Peter Clark.

The process “refers to the harmonious marriage of Writing, Editing and Design” (Reason, 2002). All the elements are equally important and should be considered in the planning and execution of your project. According to Reason, they will help you to “produce a journalistic project that is more powerful than any one element in isolation” (2002).

Be a photo journalist

Challenge yourself. Choose a theme, grab your camera, and get ready to take a lot of photos. And don’t forget, it’s OK to get your clothes dirty. You can always wash them when you get home.

until nxt time …


Garcia, M. R. (2017, January 19). Blog: Digital storytelling, Part One: The fusion of writing/editing/design. Retrieved from: https://www.garciamedia.com/blog/digital_storytelling_part_one_the_fusion_of_writing_editing_design/ (Module 4)

Gitner, S. (2016). Multimedia Storytelling for Digital Communication in a Multiplatform World. New York: Routledge. (Module 1)

Klanten, R., Ehmann, S., & Schulze, F. (2011). Visual Storytelling: Inspiring a New Visual Language. Gestalten. (Module 1)

Reason, R. (2002, August 20). WED: The Integration of Writing/Editing/Design. Retrieved from: https://www.poynter.org/archive/2002/wed-the-integration-of-writingeditingdesign/ (Module 4)

Shurbaji, E. (2014, December 17). Photo narratives. Retrieved from: https://medium.com/learning-journalism-tech/photo-narratives-d77b812f99dd (Module 4)

Thomson Reuters Foundation. (2013, June 4). 7 Photojournalism Tips by Reuters Photographer Damir Sagolj—YouTube [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsO9IObsaRA (Module 4)

Worth 1,000 Words: The 4 Principles of Visual Storytelling. (2017, March 15). Retrieved from: https://actiongraphicsnj.com/blog/4-principles-visual-storytelling/ (Module 1)


The United States has two major political parties, represented here by the blue donkey on the left (the Democratic Party) and the red elephant on the right (the Republican party). These two parties control almost all of the political power in the country at the Federal level.

The showdown is central in the mind of “everyperson” (the image of the head), showcasing the attention the presidential battle is garnering. They face each other, eye to eye, in battle. It is not only a battle for the White House, shown in the background, but also a battle of wills.

A battle of wills is a situation that involves people who try to defeat each other by refusing to change their own aims or demands and hoping that their opponents will weaken first. 

There is no negotiation here. The face-off shows the current “partisan politics” that have become the norm in the U.S.

“We the People” are shown on the front lawn, each standing on their respective party’s colors; blue on the left for Democrats and red on the right for Republicans. Their thought bubbles, also color coded, display where each party stands on five hotbed issues:

  1. Gun control
  2. The wall (Mexico-United States barrier)
  3. Abortion
  4. Immigration
  5. Climate Change

The “no symbol,” a red circle with a slash, indicates their opposition to the issue.

The founding fathers created the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights to ensure our citizens were able to live in freedom. Voters exercise their freedom to choose their representatives through voting, depicted as the red, white and blue star-decorated voting box shown at the base of the “everyperson.”

Each symbol stands on its own, but the interpretation of them as a whole is unique to each viewer. For some it speaks of the brokenness of a largely two-party system; for others the current divisiveness of the United States. And yet others may see issues such as freedom of choice, the right or the need to vote, or even the current power of the Republican Party as the incumbent in the presidential race.

Visual Storytelling

“Stories can be used to explain or to help the audience explore a topic” (Watson, 2017).

Hugh Watson, Professor of MIS at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, at the University of Georgia, details a set of storytelling best practices in his recent article published in the Business Intelligence Journal. They are:

  1. Focus on the story.
  2. Know your audience.
  3. Establish the setting.
  4. Define the characters.
  5. Define the problem or conflict.
  6. Show the resolution and future.

Let’s look at each one.

The Story

The reflection. The thought bubbles that hover on either side of the image depict the beginning of the story. Our political system encourages a reflection of our own belief system and how we feel about the hotbed issues happening in our country.

The choice. In our quest to have our voice heard, we choose the party (or candidate) that most closely matches our belief system.

The vote. We believe our voice has been heard as we cast our vote. The story ends at the ballot box.

The Audience

The viewer can deduce from the background image that it is an American story, but you don’t have to be an American to understand the duality of the image. The battle of wills shown in the center image is also a battle of the mind. Our vote is a precious freedom, and it requires a great deal of thought to employ that right wisely.

The Setting

The lawn of the White House makes this an American story, but the struggle inherent in a democracy can also apply elsewhere.

The Characters

Each side of the U.S. democracy is equally represented, with the only exception being the size of the Republican elephant symbol. It is based on real life dimensions, but could also be interpreted as showing the power of the incumbent president’s party affiliation.

The Conflict

Once again, it is a battle of wills and a battle of the mind. The parties engage in a duel for the power of the presidency.

The Resolution and the Future

The election results hold the key to the future.

The Overall Message

Although the two-party system in the United States has its inherent weaknesses, it still allows Americans to exercise their freedom of choice. It is my hope that this image will encourage the viewer to reflect not only on their personal beliefs, but on the effectiveness of a wider political system designed to keep their freedoms intact.

until nxt time …

Want a closer view? Download the PDF version.


Battle of wills definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/battle-of-wills

Nix, E. (2018, October 28). Election 101: How did the Republican and Democratic parties get their animal symbols? Retrieved from: https://www.history.com/news/how-did-the-republican-and-democratic-parties-get-their-animal-symbols

Political parties in the United States. (2019). In Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from: https://simple.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Political_parties_in_the_United_States&oldid=6700153

Watson, H.J. (2017). Data Visualization, Data Interpreters, and Storytelling. Business Intelligence Journal. 22. 5-10.


David McCandless is a data-journalist and author of the book Information is Beautiful. In his 2012 TED talk, he discusses how visuals can bring greater clarity and understanding to written information that can otherwise be, well, overwhelming or even bland.

To find out for myself, I searched for some meaningful statistics I could use to create my own visualization project.

Childhood Obesity

With the help of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move public health campaign, Americans have become more aware of the childhood obesity issue. At the start of her initiative in 2010, close to one in three children in America were overweight or obese (Learn The Facts | Let’s Move!, n.d.).

The most recent statistics I could find were from the years 2015 to 2016. Based on the CDC National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data brief, the occurrence of obesity at that time was as follows:

I had the data, now I needed to breathe life into it.

Four elements

According to McCandless, there are four elements necessary for good data visualization:

  1. Information (the data)
  2. Function (your goal)
  3. Visual form (a metaphor, or how it relates)
  4. Story (the concept)
(McCandless, 2014)

Information & Function

Since I already had the information, I moved on to function. My goal? To keep it simple. Although the data was broken down by gender, I decided I just wanted to show the overall stats by age group.

A simple grid would definitely do it (the technical term for the grid is spatial substrate, which simply means the space used to create a visualization).

Visual Form

When I considered what the visual form would be, I thought about how I had snacked as a child. Sometimes my snacks were healthy, but other times not so much. Treats like ice cream, cake and cookies definitely crept into my childhood diet.

Cookies seemed like a highly relatable choice; a metaphor for childhood.

I could see the two-dimensional grid in my mind; three stacks of cookies measured on the y-axis, each cookie representing one percent. But what could I show to help the reader visualize the three age groups on the x-axis? Then it dawned on me.

What do you drink with cookies? Usually milk.

A different container representing each age group would drive the message home in seconds.


And so my message is this: no matter what your age, try and limit the amount of cookies in your diet. Enjoy all things in moderation — avoid the excess.


” … more than our brain is dedicated to the processing of visual input, and so pure text and numbers cannot convey information in as memorable or digestible form as that of successful visual-based storytelling” (Losowsky, 2011, as cited in Klanten, Ehmann, & Schulze, 2011).

How did I do? Did you receive the message I was trying to convey, or are you just hungry? A bit of whimsy never hurts to help engage your audience.

“If you combine the language of the eye with the language of the mind … you start speaking two languages simultaneously, each enhancing the other” (David McCandless, 2012 TED Talk).

Remember, “graphical representations of quantitative data boost understanding” (Watson, 2017). A good information visualization draws you in, allowing you to think about things in a slightly different way. When you include the four elements of information, function, visual form and story, you can ensure your audience can digest the data easily.

And that makes you a smart cookie.

until nxt time …


Childhood obesity—Symptoms and causes. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/childhood-obesity/symptoms-causes/syc-20354827

Childhood Obesity Facts | Overweight & Obesity | CDC. (2019, June 24). Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html

Hales, C.M., Carroll, M.D., Fryar, C.D., Ogden, C.L. Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015–2016. NCHS data brief, no 288. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2017.

Heilpflanzen. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://hbcglobalartcollection.com/collection/sarah-illenberger-heilpflanzen/

Information Visualization – A Brief Introduction. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/information-visualization-a-brief-introduction

Klanten, R., Ehmann, S., & Schulze, F. (2011). Visual Storytelling: Inspiring a New Visual Language. Gestalten.

Krasnic, T. (2010, August 23). Visual mapping. Retrieved from: https://www.seenmagazine.us/Articles/Article-Detail/ArticleId/840/Visual-mapping

Learn The Facts | Let’s Move! (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://letsmove.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/learn-facts/epidemic-childhood-obesity

McCandless, D. (n.d.). What Makes A Good Data Visualization? Retrieved from: https://informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/what-makes-a-good-data-visualization/

McCandless, D. (2014). Knowledge Is Beautiful: Impossible Ideas, Invisible Patterns, Hidden Connections–Visualized. Harper Design.

TED-Ed. (2012, November 23). The beauty of data visualization – David McCandless. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Zg-C8AAIGg

Visual Mapping – The elements of information visualization. (2019, October 27). Retrieved from: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/visual-mapping-the-elements-of-information-visualization

Watson, H.J. (2017). Data Visualization, Data Interpreters, and Storytelling. Business Intelligence Journal. 22. 5-10.

Header photo by Alexander Dummer from Pixabay


What is this place, and why are people gathering amid the lighted circle at the bottom? To me, it looks like something from a sci-fi movie.

Want to know why? It’s because the light is blue.

According to Chris Noessel and Nathan Shedroff, authors of the book Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction, blue is the color used in movies to represent the future.

But why blue?

” … because blue is so rare in nature (if you discount the sky and the ocean, which are arguably not blue) there’s something fundamentally mystical, unnatural, and inhuman about it” (Greenspan, 2013).

To answer my opening question, this is not a scene from a movie. This is a photograph I took inside the Vessel, a new landmark in New York City’s Hudson Yards neighborhood. And I’d bet my paycheck the designers chose that particular shade of deep blue for its futuristic qualities.

My visit was not planned. After spending the afternoon at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum on the upper east side (which I highly recommend) we had some time left before we had to head home to PA. A couple of subway trains later we landed in Hudson Yards.

I had never heard of the Vessel, so I wasn’t even sure what it was when we arrived, but I was wowed. It was absolutely stunning. My initial reaction was one of fascination, curiosity, and wonder at the sheer size of the structure.

Visceral emotional response

Donald Norman is an author, professor, and director of The Design Lab at University of California, San Diego. In a paper he co-authored with Andrew Ortony, he outlines three levels of emotional responses: visceral, behavioral, and reflective (Norman & Ortony, 2003).

A visceral response “relates only to the surface appearance of objects. It is pure style, pure surface” (Norman & Ortony, 2003).

Here’s what I saw as I stood in front of the Vessel for the first time.

I actually thought to myself, welcome to the mother ship. Look closely and you’ll see the glow of the inner blue light at the bottom of the structure, along with a faint blue stream billowing from the top.

The Vessel’s metallic skin against the late October Gotham sky evokes awe.

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

“Like colours, primary emotions can be expressed at different intensities and can mix with one another to form different emotions” (Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Plutchik’s wheel of emotions— Wikiversity, n.d.).

According to psychologist Robert Plutchik, awe is a combination of the primary emotions of amazement and terror. Take a look at Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions below.

(Contrasting and categorization of emotions, 2019)

Amazement has two lesser intensities: surprise and distraction. Terror’s lesser intensities are fear and apprehension.

My awe was a combination of amazement (this is huge!) and apprehension (will I be able to get to the top of this thing?)

Take a look inside

The Vessel is actually a large spiral staircase; after you enter you choose one of the four stairwells to begin your journey. There’s also an elevator (pictured on the right in the photo below) if you can’t (or don’t want to) climb the fifteen stories.

This is where my behavioral response kicked in.

Norman & Ortony say a behavioral response is an expectation-induced reaction, because it’s “intimately connected to predictions of and expectations about the near future” (2003).

I was fortunate enough to have made it to the top of the Notre Dame Cathedral before the heartbreaking fire occurred, so I figured I would be okay walking to the top of the Vessel. There are 154 interconnecting flights of stairs, but you don’t have to use them all to make it to the top. You can rest along the way without getting in anyone’s way, so my emotion was definitely optimistic.

That’s me trying to capture the majesty of it all with my cellphone camera. Look carefully and you’ll see two figures: one taking a look inside (at the 8 o’clock position) and another climbing to the next level (just to the right of the 9 o’clock position). You can also see the landings: the one I’m standing on and the open spaces across the way.

Here’s an outside view overlooking the train yards.

Daytime evokes a different emotion

After our visit I did a little research, because I wondered what the Vessel would look like during the day. Here’s a photo I found on Instagram.


Totally different. Still futuristic, but not in the magical sort of way I experienced.

The angle the photographer used to take this photo is much less dramatic than my night shot. The Vessel’s proximity to the viewer is more comfortable, therefore removing the almost ominous feeling I experienced. It also shows the airiness of the hive-like structure, which gives it a lighter feeling.

The colors are brighter, so the mood is happier. The view of the landings are more defined, and you can see the background of the mall and the taller building on the right hand side. This context combined with the daylight provides a calmer feel overall. My reflective or “intellectually-induced” response to this photograph is admiration.

Reflective responses produce emotions that “incorporate a sense
of feeling derived from the affective components from the visceral and behavioral levels, along with a conscious interpretation of that feeling” (Norman & Ortony, 2003).

Awe · Optimism · Admiration

Upon its opening, the reaction to the vessel among New Yorkers was mixed. For me, it’s hard not to admire the creativity of the architects that designed such an interactive structure. I made it to the top, stopping along the way to enjoy the hive-like interior views, the views of the river, and the wonderful fall breeze that was blowing that night.

But most of all, I loved the blue light. Genius.

until nxt time …


Cherry, K. (2019, October 25). How the Color Blue Impacts Moods, Feelings, and Behaviors. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/the-color-psychology-of-blue-2795815

Contrasting and categorization of emotions. (2019). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Contrasting_and_categorization_of_emotions&oldid=916109230

Greenspan, S. (Producer). (2013, November 20). Future screens are mostly blue [Audio podcast]. Retrieved
from https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/future-screens-are-mostly-blue/

Howard, T. (Producer). (2012, May 21). Why Isn’t the Sky Blue? Retrieved from: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/segments/211213-sky-isnt-blue

Hudson Yards. (2016). Introducing The Vessel. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=8&v=OLG3uTmceCE

Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Plutchik’s wheel of emotions— Wikiversity. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Motivation_and_emotion/Book/2014/Plutchik%27s_wheel_of_emotions

Norman, D.A. (n.d.). Jnd.org. Retrieved from: https://jnd.org/

Norman, D.A. & Ortony, A. (2003). Design and Users: Two perspectives on emotion and design, Foundations of Interaction Design, Ivrea, Italy, November 2003.

Vessel | Hudson Yards. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.hudsonyardsnewyork.com/discover/vessel


The face and eyes reflect a person’s inner emotion.

“According to the recent study, published in Psychological Science, we interpret a person’s emotions by analyzing the expression in their eyes — a process that began as a universal reaction to environmental stimuli and evolved to communicate our deepest emotions” (Cornell University, 2017).

Psychologist Robert Plutchik identified no less than a few hundred words in the English language that describe emotions, and suggests these emotions can be classified into eight categories — based on their similarity (2001).

(Contrasting and categorization of emotions, 2019)

Filmmakers often use close ups of actors when they market their films. It makes sense: they take advantage of our ability to “read” the emotions portrayed by the face and eyes.

Let’s take a look at some of the photographs filmmakers have used to convey grief, which includes its lesser intensities of sadness and pensiveness.


deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement

This is a movie poster from Jackie. Natalie Portman portrays First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the film, which recounts the events that happened immediately after John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963. Her husband is gone, and she is left to grieve as the world watches.

This close up of Ms. Portman is a stereotypical, yet vivid depiction of grief. Her black veil and downcast eyes show the devastation she suffered in the wake of this egregious act of violence. Her mouth is parted as she views the American flag that drapes the coffin at the U.S. Capital building. Although I’ve described the details here, no explanation is required; the message of grief and shock is visually delivered.

As effective as this is, let’s compare it with a photograph taken by Elliott Erwitt at JFK’s funeral. Jackie carries the American flag that has been removed from the coffin, and her face is covered with a black veil. Her face and eyes, along with those of her brother-in-law Robert, reveal the heaviness of their grief encased in their furrowed brows and lost expressions.

Elliott Erwitt’s photograph of Jacqueline Kennedy at JFK’s funeral in Arlington, VA

A 2015 article in The Guardian described the details of Erwitt’s photograph.

“He captures the expression on Jackie Kennedy’s face with harrowing precision. Her features are scrunched up, her facial muscles collapsing in grief. Her eyes tell a story of unbelievable sorrow. Her mouth is a broken harp of sheer despair” (Jones, 2015).

Sophie’s Choice

affected with or expressive of grief or unhappiness

Sophie’s Choice is a 1982 film based on William Styron’s novel of the same name. Meryl Streep delivers a stunning performance as Sophie Zawistowski, a Polish immigrant who was interned at Auschwitz and later emigrated to America.

The story takes place in 1947 Brooklyn where Sophie lives with her lover Nathan, played by Kevin Kline. They make friends with a writer named Stingo who has moved to Brooklyn to write his novel.

The still below shows Sophie’s sadness as she recounts her time in Poland just prior to her internment. Her face is flushed and her eyes are fully open, which shows her sensitivity. They are also bloodshot and swollen from crying. Although she appears calm, her facial expression and the hurt in her eyes convey the sadness of her past.

Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice

The lobby card shown below shows the similarity between Streep and Klein, each with a faraway look in their eyes. This foreshadowing tells us their characters are troubled.

Lobby card from the 1982 film Sophie’s Choice

The proximity of the characters tell us they are all connected. The shadows reinforce the overall feeling of sadness, and the gray cast of the photograph hints at the melancholy mood of the film.

Les Misérables

Russell Crowe as Javert in Les Misérables

suggestive of sad thoughtfulness

Javert is a pivotal character in Victor Hugo’s classic tale Les Misérables, shown here as portrayed by Russell Crowe in the 2012 film. Javert is a police guard turned inspector who spends his life in search of the protagonist Jean Valjean, a prisoner who has violated parole.

In a twist of fate, Valjean spares Javert’s life. As a result, Javert is convicted by the act of kindness. Can Valjean be a good person and a criminal at the same time?

The story unfolds in Crowe’s expression. His brow is furrowed, creating a hood over his downcast eyes. This extreme close-up brings the viewer into Javert’s personal space, and we can see that he is troubled. His thoughts consume him, and his green eyes show the torture he carries with him.

“The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter” (Cicero, 106-43 B.C.)

Our eyes reflect our state of mind, and are ultimately the greatest tool we have to communicate how we are feeling. As a result, photographs that capture our facial features convey emotions that are easily understood. One might even say “in the blink of an eye.”

until nxt time …


Cao, J. (2015, April 7). Web design color theory: How to create the right emotions with color in web design. Retrieved from: https://thenextweb.com/dd/2015/04/07/how-to-create-the-right-emotions-with-color-in-web-design/

Chitwood, A. (2012, October 12). 4 Character Posters for LES MISERABLES Featuring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Amanda Seyfried. Retrieved from: https://collider.com/les-miserables-movie-posters/

Cicero. (2019). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cicero&oldid=923170353

Contrasting and categorization of emotions. (2019). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Contrasting_and_categorization_of_emotions&oldid=916109230

Cornell University. (2017, April 17). Eye expressions offer a glimpse into the evolution of emotion. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170417182822.htm

Definition of GRIEF. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grief

Definition of PENSIVE. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pensive

Definition of SADNESS. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sadness

ESC. (2004, May 22). Eyes are the mirror of the soul—Phrase meaning and origin. Retrieved October 31, 2019, from https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/31/messages/1165.html

Jackie (2016 film). (2019). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jackie_(2016_film)&oldid=916958754

Jones, J. (2015, February 5). Beyond the veil: Photographs can be more powerful than art. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2015/feb/05/elliott-erwitt-jackie-kennedy-photograph-andy-warhol-sony-world-awards

Lupton, E. (2017). Design is Storytelling. New York, NY: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

Plutchik, R. (2001). The Nature of Emotions: Human emotions have deep evolutionary roots, a fact that may explain their complexity and provide tools for clinical practice. American Scientist, 89(4), 344–350.

Sophie’s Choice (film). (2019). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sophie%27s_Choice_(film)&oldid=921731540

McLeod, S. A. (2018). Visual perception theory. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/perception-theories.html

Header image reproduced from: https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/fandom/les-miserables-tv-series-fanfic/