I recently had the pleasure of working with two local changemakers who are vying for the 2017 Oxford Global Challenge.
The goal of the Challenge is fairly straightforward: entrants are tasked with researching an issue of their choice, then mapping the issue’s complex web of players and finding opportunities for change.
That mapping can be in the literal, place-based sense, but more often it tends to be an illustration of the connections and movements going on behind the scenes.
I teamed up with Anna Migicovsky of Knack and Kim Mackenzie, an MBA student at SFU, to illustrate the nature of employment and its relationship with support services in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES).
Employment in the DTES takes on many forms, from the more traditional hourly wages to less common – but no less valid – forms of enterprise such as binning. Anna and Kim wanted to show this wide range of ways in which DTES residents support themselves in what we called the Employment Continuum.
Structurally, this Employment Continuum had to meet a few requirements.
First, I knew it had to be horizontal because position can carry a value judgement – whatever is at the top of a vertical chart is generally seen as being “better” or something to aspire to. In the DTES, that’s not necessarily the case, and it was important to us to convey that each type of employment is just as valid as the others.
Second, the colors couldn’t be red and green. Colorblindness and holidays aside, a red-green spectrum also carries a value judgement: green = good, red = bad. We opted to use Knack’s color palette, which features bright yellow, green, and blue. The brightness conveys optimism, and the green doesn’t divide anyone into winners and losers.
Third, we actually had to explain what was going on! We relied on text to delineate each category, employment type, and description. Having the text’s color match the corresponding part of the continuum helped show that the two are related.
This continuum is actually a variation on a similar Income Generation Continuum I did for the Local Economic Development Lab’s (LEDlab’s) 2015/16 Annual Report (link is a PDF). In the LEDlab version, text and continuum were also color-coordinated, but because there was so much text and so few entries, I used lines to emphasize the connection.
The Employment Continuum grew to anchor the rest of the report, and variations told different angles of the overall story.
Anna and Kim explained a “day in the life” of a typical DTES resident, who they dubbed George. After following George around the neighborhood, from his SRO to the bank to the employment assistance office to work, we wanted to show where he lands on the Employment Continuum.
Having a concrete example (George) and a clear structure (the Continuum) made it easy to explain to the reader how a person might land on the spectrum. Perhaps more important to the story, it also showed how a person’s situation might move back and forth over time.
To show gaps in social support systems, we used a Continuum with missing pieces.
Having “trained” the reader to recognize a Continuum with entries at regular intervals, we knew that visual gaps would stand out – after all, sometimes an element’s absence is more striking than its presence.
Anna and Kim wanted to show the support services offered to DTES residents by government agencies and NGOs, and highlight the gaps that still remain.
This diagram is visually unbalanced, and intentionally so. With everything skewed to the right, the image seems somehow wrong.
The imbalance is meant to show that while government services have the middle and right end of the Continuum well-covered, there are no government supports for people on the left.
No matter how many times you read the other entries, the big white open space draws your eye back. And perhaps you think…
What could we put there?
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