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Equity and Innovation: Engaging with data from a design perspective

Innovation and equity are core values at AKA. Innovation with data involves forward thinking and working with a design team that knows the latest tools, methods, theories and resources to create engaging materials that reach the intended audience.

AKA is data equity focused. When we create reports, we know our target audience and we consider content, access, and mediums that will be used to tell stories from print to digital or podcasts. In our 100+ years of collective community partnerships we have learned the importance of engaging with data to create reports and visualizations that tell a story.

I met with Linda Donahue, lead designer for AKA, to find out more about how she engages with data from a design perspective.


Describe your design process. What happens when you receive a report or document that requires design?

  1. The first thing I do is look through the content document because it is built into an outline that shows sections. This gives me the big picture.

  2. The next thing that I do is I take each section and place it into my InDesign document. I see how things fit in the layout and give credence to each section. I like to let each section live on its own and I don't want constant flow. I ask myself, "How will this section be presented here, and how do all the sections connect with one another?"

  3. Then I create the cover. I do the cover next because it gives me an overarching aesthetic for the entirety of the piece and how it flows. I think about the visual elements, what is the umami? Or the underlying visual story that creates a cohesive look.

  4. Once the cover is developed including textures, colors, patterns… then I delve into the content. I have already semi-engaged with the content when I am initially working with it. There is a secondary engagement with the content once I delve into those sections more. I am looking to see how the content has been outlined and organized by the authors.

....sometimes there are bits and pieces of data within a report that speak to me. -Linda Donahue

Honestly, I do not fully read reports. I definitely read through and skim and find out what the report is really trying to say. It is always pretty clear when there is something visually engaging, like objectives, goals, visual tables sometimes there are bits and pieces of data within a report that speak to me. The data are calling to me saying,"This is important." I think that this is true with the evaluation kit we recently finished. When I approached the Youth Evaluation Kit I looked at the breakdown of steps in the guide. Whenever I see steps that just calls for a visual. And really trying to understand those steps, how they work together, and what they are trying to represent.

One of the good things about not being an evaluator or researcher is that I am a totally different audience. I have a totally different way of looking at the data. I can ask those questions about what a report is trying to say and ask myself, "What am I trying to say with this design?" It is so fun. I am constantly learning because of it.

I think the most challenging in these scenarios… is that there is so much story in design work. I am trying not to tell too much of anyone's story through my eyes. I want to tell the story that the people we are working with want represented in these reports. This can be one of the biggest challenges. Visuals play such an important role in telling a story. The subtle representations are important. This is challenging because by no means are these my stories. I am just helping put to represent a story that needs to be told, it's not my story.

Four tips for Designers Engaging with Evaluation Content

I have a lot to learn… especially with how to create content with different types of audiences in mind. Here are four tips every designer must read.

#1 It is not your story to tell. Don't be offended. You might interpret the story not quite right, be open to reflect on what the story is, and change it to reflect the client's needs.

#2 Believe in the content. It is not just words on a paper. What is it trying to say has importance and relevance. Tap into what that meaning is before you begin. Because that will inform how you develop the visual story for the work.

#3 Find what works for you. Follow this process. It will help with efficiency and flow.

#4 Let go. From prints to photography, anytime you create something, the minute it is done, let it go. Let the design live in the world without you.

"I don't celebrate when we finish a design. I just move on to the next big thing."- Linda Donahue


That is what our work is all about…moving forward at a steady pace with our eyes toward the AKA vision, serving, transforming, and building up others.

That is what our work is all about…moving forward at a steady pace with our eyes toward the AKA vision, serving, transforming, and building up others.



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