Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Engineering a graphic solution for EPSRC

We have just finished work on a challenging data visualisation project for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) website. The brief was to communicate where EPSRC - the UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and physical sciences – allocates funding to its many research disciplines.

So how to communicate this in an innovative, aesthetic and accessible way? Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Believe us, it wasn’t!

EPSRC divides its research portfolio into a number of different challenge themes: Healthcare Technologies, Global Uncertainties, Digital Economy, Manufacturing the Future, Energy and Living with Environmental change and capability themes: – Engineering, ICT (Information and Communications Technologies), Physical Sciences and Mathematical Sciences. Our task was to visually represent these so that they are clear and easy to understand.

So far, so straightforward. However, given the nature of EPSRC, there is huge overlap within the different themes and within each central theme there are numerous individual research areas that interconnect with each other. Take Physical Sciences for instance. There are 28 research areas within the theme, (yes, we counted them), all of which connect with one or more of the other 27. Therefore, we needed to design something that showed clearly the overall research portfolio, the challenge and capability themes, and their related research areas whilst also representing them as individual entities.

An essential part of the project was to show the current funding for every research area and represent their relative funding over the next year.

There were a lot of numbers involved so we needed to find a way of simply representing these figures. After brainstorming a number of creative concepts, we opted for graphic maps. Our first task was to create a main overview map to show the challenge and capability themes.. Each of these then had its own graphic map, featuring circles representing each specific research area and interconnecting lines to link related areas together. The circle size represents the level of funding received up until April 2011, with the colour indicating whether the relative value of funding over the coming year is expected to grow, reduce, maintain or if it is still under review.

To make matters more complicated, we also had to ensure all the maps were accessible for visually impaired audiences – again, a core part of the brief. So we had to be creative whilst constrained by the limited choices in the visually impaired palette. We used yellow, pink, green and blue to represent funding status, along with white text on darker backgrounds and black text on the lighter colours.

Altogether, we created nine maps, all connected to the head diagram. It was our aim to create something that combined aesthetics with functionality and we are very proud of our efforts. And EPSRC felt that the resulting graphics helped to communicate the complexities of their portfolio.

(click the diagrams below to view full size)

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