How the Sagebrush graphic of the ASUN budget ended up more confusing than the actual budget

Although I’ve never claimed to be a graphic design expert, I do believe that I have the ability to tell a good infographic from a bad one. And man, last week’s Nevada Sagebrush graphic on the proposed ASUN budget was not good at all. Here’s what it looked like (page link is here).

Image courtesy of The Nevada Sagebrush

Where to begin?

  • What am I looking at?: This graphic looks like it’s been pulled out of a high school chemistry book. In addition to no visual elements beyond basic geometric shapes, the graph just looks boring. Same-ish text types, no eye-catching colors or images and way too much white space. This is not visually appealing at all.
  • What does it mean?: It took me a few minutes to figure out what exactly was going on. Apparently, the vertical axis represents the change in dollar amount from the last year, while the horizontal axis shows the percent change from the past year. The bubbles are the largest changes in the budget (but the Budget and Finance and Student Activities Center don’t have one??) with the size of the bubble representing the portion of the total budget. So that’s three different pieces of information all crammed into one smallish space. It’s confusing as hell, and isn’t very self-explanatory; hallmarks of any good infographic. (Also, bubble charts suck. Read this)
  • Explanation: Ok, so after studying this graphic for about 10 minutes, I think I understand the information conveyed within. But what the hell does it mean? Why was more money given to Campus Escort? Why did the Budget and Finance section lose so much money? What is the ASUN Student Activities Center? What’s the actual dollar amount in the budget for 2013? What does all of the other money go towards? Graphics such as these can work as long as they’re accompanied by an explanatory text element, but what you see is all you get. I could easily get more information faster and easier from the actual pdf submission of the budget than from this graph.

This isn’t the first time the Sagebrush has goofed on a graphic, and while this graph doesn’t appear to misinform, its structure and layout is confusing as hell. Graphic design is an incredibly important part of newspaper production, as interesting and informative infographics and design can help a story come alive and look better than just words on a paper. But it needs to be done well for that to happen, and unfortunately the Sagebrush missed an opportunity to tell a pretty decent ASUN budget story here. Instead, we get this graphic, and are forced to either look through the official documents themselves or just ignore the issue entirely. It’s a failure to report and a failure to tell a story that needs to be told accurately and clearly.

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