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After months of hard work and hundreds of hours of planning, writing, iterating and reviewing, UI finally began distribution of the 2018 social embeddedness report. Now, designing the social embeddedness report for the fourth year in a row should be like watching a Michelin star chef cooking an 8-course meal - smooth and effortless. Behind the scenes though, it’s more like a kindergartner entering their first cookie-baking competition. The process can be messy, and it may take a couple tries to get just right, but eventually they’ll take home the blue ribbon. So what ingredients does it take to design a university report distributed to over 3,000 staff, faculty and community leaders?
In contrast with last year’s report which aimed to communicate the sheer volume of partnerships with the community, the goal of this year’s report was to tell deeper stories about why we partner and how it’s beneficial. To emphasize the importance of each individual narrative, each feature story was given its own spread. More space was alloted per page for text, and large, attention-grabbing headers were used so that readers have the option of skimming for key points. This layout also allowed us to use one powerful, large-scale image per spread that often “bleed” off the page, reflecting ASU’s brand values of accessibility and global scale.
A key differentiator between an annual report and something that resembles a year book is quality photos. Last year, searching for the perfect photos took almost as much time as writing the stories. So this year our team took steps with the marketing hub to create a brand guide for socially-embedded photography. It not only provided us with better image options for this year’s report, but allowed us to collaborate with the marketing hub and create a shared visual language around this design aspiration.
A main feature this year was the St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) partnership graphic. ASU partners with hundreds of organizations at all levels, which can be hard to communicate through language alone. By working with our partners at SVdP, we were able to link each of our collaborations with their respective community impacts to create ASU’s first comprehensive partnership map. Ok, maybe semi-comprehensive, because a 20+ year partnership map would barely fit on a jumbotron, but we hit the highlights.
It all started with a list of programs, people and activities the two organizations have in common, which were converted to stickynotes and organized on a whiteboard. This allowed our team to quickly cluster the stickies and draw connections that could easily be moved and regrouped if necessary. A visual concept was drafted shortly after to get a sense of spacing and how many connections would need to be cut to fit. After many iterations, a couple page rotations and a lot of coffee, we were happy with what became the final version.
Another graphic that helped us paint a more complete picture of impactful partnerships was the MLFTC Educator Workforce Initiative diagram. This went through several iterations, but came together when jawbreakers inspired an overlapping effect that more easily communicated the burden placed on K-12 educators today (that’s right, candy-inspired design). The secret is to create several minimum viable products that communicate the basic idea, run them by your team for feedback, then iterate. Depending on the officemate, you’ll know you’ve got it right when you hear an “oh yeah, much better” or “cuuuuuute!”
Finally, a map was added to the SolarSPELL story focused on the populations that become accessible because of our partners. I will be the first to admit I’m not geographically inclined, so seeing the deployment locations in the context of the world map really helped provide a sense of scale. I’ve found that graphics are most useful when communicating either complex concepts and ideas or to add emphasis to a fact or feature, in this case, distance.
There is an overwhelming amount of information to learn about the world of printing, but we’ve learned enough about the process over the years to successfully go to print on the second or third try. First, all the linked images are packaged into files and digitally color-checked for consistency. Printers layer various percentages of cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink (commonly called CMYK) on the page to create almost any color needed for the job. Believe it or not, there is a big difference between 0,0,0,100 black (a single coat of full black ink used for text) and 100,100,100,100 black (four full layers of cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink used to fill large dark areas). After the packaged files are sent to the printer, proofs are returned in full color to provide one last look for any errors related to text, color or layout. Once the final corrections are made and approved, the packaged files are sent to be printed, dried, cut, bound and shipped.
There’s so much more work that goes into this endeavour from a design perspective that I could go on forever. I learn a hundred new tips, processes, tools and techniques every year, and always walk away thinking there is no way it can be outdone next year. Yet somehow it always happens. While the process can be a little messy, I think we were able to take home the blue ribbon this year.