In just a few days, Indiana University President Michael McRobbie will announce his choice for this year's Grand Challenge grant recipient. From a field of 21 initial proposals, five finalists were selected in January. Each grant proposal was to take on a broad, tricky problem facing society. One of the teams, led by Dr. Ellen Ketterson, took on climate change, and contacted us to help make their proposal stand out.
We mostly worked with Dr. David Polly from IU Geosciences. At an initial meeting, he ran through the overall proposal and discussed what he thought would be needed. They definitely wanted a cover illustration. They also felt that an infographic for the interior was needed, but weren't sure of what information from the proposal would be best suited for the form. He handed off a wealth of material for us to look at and we set to processing it all. While climate change was the main engine, it drove many other topics in the proposal including human and wildlife migrations, urban green infrastructure, conservation law, and the ways in which people relate to nature. After a week of research and brainstorming, we came back to Dr. Polly to propose a larger set of graphics, that would help the team emphasize key points in their plan.
One thing that was clear from the start was that the audience needed a way to visualize the way the different research clusters would work together. This was solved by creating a network map that would introduce a color coding system and demonstrate the connections between the clusters.
We also felt that we needed to have a clear and easy-to-understand narrative to demonstrate how change in the larger environment could have cascading effects here in Indiana. Dr. Polly and the team decided to look at the way that rising temperature in the Canadian boreal forests would impact wildlife and agriculture in Indiana, requiring change in urban infrastructure and conservation law. We then took their story and used color coding and a stepping-stone path of iconic illustrations to relate each link of the cause-and-effect chain.
The proposal hopes to bring researchers together to look at the past as well as the present to create solutions for the future, so we created an infographic that could deliver some bite-sized facts that relate to each cluster. Since this was a piece entirely of our conception, we ended up writing much of the copy, which surprisingly only needed some light edits from the team!
Finally, after stewing in the details of the project for a month or so, it was time to tackle that cover illustration. Because of the complexity of the topic, we thought that the best approach would be to create something optimistic and colorful, showing the diversity of ideas the team members brought to the table. In a hat tip to E.O. Wilson's idea of preserving half of the Earth for wildlife, half of the state is depicted as wetland, forest, or prairie.
Clients don't always have a complete picture of what they need us to do, but that's not an impediment to a great working relationship. It's rewarding to research the material they need to communicate, focus on what could benefit most from visualization, and work together to make an impactful final product.