Better Infographics for Data Merge with Chartwell Bars

While speaking at the 2016 PEPCON in San Diego along with Co-presenter David Creamer on the topic of Data Publishing, I presented an older tip that allows shapes to change size based on numerical values that appear in Data Merge. The tip requires the Chartwell typeface, particularly the Chartwell bars font. I’d mentioned at the time that while it was a novel tip, I didn’t have a practical purpose for it. I’d also mentioned in my presentation about using knockout groups in InDesign to hide information and had demonstrated it using my “Parkway Drive” demonstration where it is used to hide parts of a sign that changes size, but again felt there should be a better use of this tip.

However, it was on my 15 hour flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne where I thought of a new and much more practical purpose – creating infographics. I also thought about getting some sleep, but that was a fool’s errand!

Once I arrived home, I tested out the theories I had during the flight, and while the results were mixed, I was happy with what had been achieved.

Ultimately, I have created three techniques for anyone making infographics. In all instances, I’ve colored the chartwell bars font as black so that the technique can be demonstrated, but in application the type (and its spacer) would be given the color “none”:

1 – Infographics as scaleable shapes.

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This uses the method described in an earlier indesignsecrets.com article that I have written. Rather than rewrite the tip, the link to that article is here. The point of difference is that the shape being transformed into an infographic is what is being scaled.

There are some drawbacks to this method.

First, the shape has to allow the chartwell bars font to expand from the left to the right without getting caught on any part of the shape, so not every shape will work. Bottles that were used in the example were fine because they meet this criteria.

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Second, there is a lack of precision, especially concerning low numbers as the graphic scales. This appears to be because there is a minimum size that the graphic can shrink to.

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2 – Data that is pasted into a vector

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This method works the same way with the exception that the data is in a rectangular shaped textframe that is pasted into the target shape, and also given a 2mm spacer object to allow low figures to be presented. The 2mm spacer is a 2mm square that is an inline object before the figures in the chartwell font.

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For anyone wondering why such an odd technique was used to add 2mm to the frame, I had tried using a 2mm left align or a 2mm inset space in the shape itself but these presented issues.

3 – Hiding an image underneath

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This works the same way as method 2 with the exception that rather than being pasted into the graphic, it is pasted above the graphic. An additional anchored object that is larger than the infographic is then pasted after the figures in chartwell bars and given very specific values in the anchored object dialog box, along with being given the fill color of paper and a multiply effect of 0% from the effects panel. The frame with the values is then grouped with the infographic that is underneath and the “knockout group” checkbox is ticked.

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To make the effect more impressive, an “after” graphic is added that is the same size as the infographic but has different properties to make the difference in the values clear to the reader.

Moving forward

By itself, these techniques aren’t that impressive if creating one-off graphics, but if preparing infographics for variable data (whether for a catalogue or direct mail) I’m sure that readers will find these methods quite useful. These are not the only infographics tricks I have recently discovered, so watch this space.

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