My entry for “Information is Beautiful Awards: Hollywood Budgets”

Posted: February 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

Probably my favorite aspect of technical writing is less on the writing side, and more on the information design side. I love creative visuals. You know, infographics and charts and stuff. Unfortunately, I’m not a designer (yet?), so it’s not something I’ve gotten to play around with much first-hand. Until I found out about the Information is Beautiful Awards. They’ve started running a monthly contest where they share some data, and ask people to turn them into a creative visualization. There are three divisions: interactive (for people who can do flash and stuff), static designs, and the “napkin challenge.” The napkin challenge is for people like me, who have creative ideas, but lack the design skills (and/or expensive software) to execute them. You can just sketch a prototype of your idea, write a little about how it works, and send it in. The idea is that it’s so simple and informal you can even draw it on a bar napkin.

I only found out about this contest about a week before the deadline, so I wasn’t sure if I’d have time to make something. But I was so enchanted with the idea that I couldn’t help reflecting on it until I had an idea that I liked, and then it was just a matter of setting aside an afternoon to put it into action.

You had to title your work, and I couldn’t think of anything good, so I awkwardly present to you “The Stars over Hollywood”!

WordPress is making the image come out kinda weird and squished, so if you want to see the full thing, it’s here.

So this is a sketch for an interactive design. The bigger the star, the more money it grossed worldwide. The “twinklier” it is (here demonstrated by lines emitting from the star, but in the interactive graphic the “twinkliness” should be animated), the more profitable it was, as related to percentage of budget. (If you have trouble reading the word “Profitability,” it’s because I accidentally wrote “Profability” and didn’t notice until it was hard to erase. I’m just not used to using pencil and paper!) The point is to be able to compare and contrast big “stars” that may not have been as profitable, with smaller ones that might have had a bigger return on investment, like that one tiny one with so many lines it looks like a dandelion puff–I forget what it was, but it made over 6000% profit.

This isn’t just an imagined sketch–I actually plotted these out. Deciding how to convert the numbers into circle sizes and shine-lines was the hardest part. I can’t remember exactly how many millimeters diameter I used for how many billions in revenue. I think with the lines, I gave 4 lines to anything that was 100% profitable, and an extra line for every 100% beyond that (eg, a 300% profitable movie got 6 lines), leaving the unprofitable films with no lines, as sort of “black holes.” There were even a few sloppy attempts at using a compass. The data set was for 5 years worth of films, so I only used the latest year (2011) and only plotted the first 60 alphabetic films, just as an example. In reality, you’d be able to choose the year, and narrow the field down to certain dramas. Oh, and I specified that when the user selects another year, the new image should slide in rotationally, as in a planisphere. You know, like those little cardboard charts you used to get when you were little with your copy of Odyssey Magazine? No?

They announce the “short list” February 20th. I hope I win, ’cause I’m unemployed, and first prize is $1000, and that would eradicate my credit card debt. But even if I don’t, I think this is really good practice for me as an information designer. And if I get short listed, maybe I’ll be noticed by a company who would hire me. If all goes well, I hope to enter their contest every month. Maybe I’ll even be able to enter the design and interactive categories in the future!



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