Guest post by Michelle Gordon

My name is Michelle Gordon and I’m a third year co-op student in the Environment and Resource Studies program at the University of Waterloo. This is the story of how REAP research sprints are helping me develop my skills to pursue my interest in design and visual communications.

REAP has some fascinating lunch and learn sessions, and I made the habit of attending them whenever I was able. In September, I attended a workshop where FiNUVO gave a presentation on their desktop hydrographic printer and afterwards I met Joy Smith, Manager of the Felt Lab, who introduced me to the idea of doing a research sprint.

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I mentioned to Joy that I was interested in data and information visualization. Visual arts have been my lifelong passion, and lately I’ve been yearning to develop skills in software such as Adobe Suite in order to create visual work in digital formats. I do not take arts courses as part of my program at University, therefore all my learning has been in my spare time.  I found websites such as Skillshare and Lynda.com  to be valuable, and through watching tutorials I learned basic skills in these programs.

Joy offered me a research sprint with Professor Kelly Gindrod at the School of Pharmacy. Kelly had conducted a demographic survey of her students, and had some data to be visualized. I was excited at the chance to put my newly learned skills to work!

First things first, I spent some time brainstorming how best to represent the information and decided I would create an infographic. Joy helped me out by bouncing ideas back and forth. She encouraged me to be creative, and to think of how the data can tell a story.

For some background knowledge I hit the books and read ‘Visualizing Information’ by Edward Tufte, a statistician and professor at Yale University. This was an interesting read, and I learned some helpful tips. The most memorable things I learned was to keep the colour palette to a minimum by using greys as a base and adding colour only to draw attention to key information. Interestingly, color palettes found in nature are generally most pleasing to the human eye. I also learned it was important to keep visuals simple, and not to add unnecessary colours or shapes that distract from your intended message.

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To get inspired, I cruised around websites such as Design Inspiration and Behance to get an idea of types of infographics professional designers are creating. I collected my favorites, and took inspiration for colour palette, layout, and shape from the variety of images which most appealed to me.

Then it was time to get to work. First I created thumbnail sketches, and then created the shapes and designed the graphs in Adobe Illustrator.

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I was bit intimidated at the beginning of the project, because of my limited experience in design. However, I was grateful to have this project to work on, because even when class work got busy (a time where I push practicing my visual skills aside as a low priority) I was motivated to complete the research sprint.

Now as I completed my project, I feel my skills using Adobe software have greatly improved. I know for my next project I’ll be even more capable and efficient in my work.

This REAP research sprint helped me apply theory I have learned and develop tangible skills in a field I am interested in pursuing, and one which I’m excited to be newly exploring. If you’re an undergraduate interested in developing skills in technology found at the REAP lab, a research sprint is a fantastic opportunity. The people involved with the REAP are very kind and supportive, and were always available with helpful advice and tips to help me on my way.

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