Visual Storytelling Makes Sense Of Complexity

Most manufacturing processes do not make for a good story, whether they involve sausages, semiconductors or steel beams.

The steps are either gross or way too complex.

That’s why I’m impressed with Erik Rhey’s visual storytelling in Fortune and his piece, “Bottles to Bridges.”

Understanding the transformation of recycled plastic bottles into the equivalent of steel beams typically calls for a Ph.D. in materials science.

Here’s just one line from the Axion International website:

This thermoplastic composite is made out of high density polyethylene (HDPE) with polypropylene encapsulated glass fiber reinforcement.

Righhhht.

Marrying graphics and words, Erik helps even someone mechanically declined like myself – my brother’s description, which I can’t dispute – grasp the concept.

infographic

Click here to view a larger version.

You can also find the visual story in slide form on Fortune online.

In connecting with Erik, he noted that the assignment called for telling the story in one page, no easy task given the complexity. After the typical back and forth with Axion, Erik crafted an explanation of the process before collaborating with the illustrator.

Even with the dominant graphics, the words still play a key role in making a compelling narrative. The raw material could have stopped at “No. 2 plastic.” Instead, we learn that “detergent bottles, milk jugs, and the like” are headed for the shredder.

For those with infographic fatigue, this type of storytelling never goes out of style.

Note: If you enjoyed this post, you might check out “Telling a Story Through Visual Means” which examines a charticle in Wired Magazine.

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