Let’s Create a Klarifi Big Picture…

How good design can help simplify the complex.

Most of the type of work I’m about to show in this article would normally be top secret, covered by an NDA under an NDA. So I’m very lucky in this case that I’ve been given special permission to show it at all, not least because it’s one my favourite projects of recent times.

It’s called a Klarifi – and is essentially a big, detailed picture, that allows you to view an overall (often quite technical) concept, then zoom in to see further detail and information. Think of it like an interactive Where’s Wally picture – but instead of having to hunt around to find Wally and friends, the most important information – ‘the big picture’, and the finer detail – is given to you from the outset.

These are big projects and I’ve wanted to show exactly how much work goes into them for a long time, so in the first of a ‘Let’s Create!’ series, showing the process behind the work, Let’s Create a Klarifi…

Stage 1 

Get a handle on the information we need to present.

So, in the first case, we’ve spoken to the client about their proposition and probably determined that it’s best suited to the Klarifi treatment. It’s often the case that an entire business unit is struggling to present their offer coherently, or that the information a customer may require is buried under a few levels of overarching information. 

The 8 pages of documentation we’re going to attempt to turn into a single picture. I’m not gonna lie, this bit always feels a bit intimidating.

We’ll meet with the client, maybe hold a workshop with multiple departments to ascertain what information we need to focus on, drawing out where the key detail is, and how that could fit into the bigger picture. My job (as the designer) is generally to sit back and listen at this point, take notes, and start thinking about the journey the picture needs to describe. 

In this example, we came away with an 8 page bullet-pointed document from which to work from and that’s a fairly straightforward case. In other examples, my mind has literally been blown by the sheer scale of how much information we’ve come away with.

Stage 2

Simplify it, and work out a journey through the important points.

The objective here is to (literally) highlight the key points and create a two-tiered hierarchy of ‘this is the information, and this is how we can illustrate it’.

A simple wireframe or diagram helps to plot out the key areas ready for building up.

We’re not actually aiming to replace the words and technical information inherent in the concepts we’re talking about, as much as we’re finding ways to use illustrations to augment the information and provide context to help make it easier to process. 

Once we have the key points and wider context in mind, we start to plan out the structure our picture is going to take. In this case we felt it was very much a case of taking the customer through a linear journey from early stage to key milestones, through to final understanding at the end. With others (which are often my favourite Klarifis), we build a city or campus with buildings that represent different departments or silos of information, and let the user explore more randomly. 

Sometimes they’re not all that simple! (University Campus, Airport, Digital Innovation Solution)

With Klarifi, we’ve built airports to show new ways of interacting with travellers, payments and currency, and more abstract concepts such as a big head (literally), with the ‘brain’ separated into even more abstract definitions of family, security, finance, training and so on. Reading about finance (for example) can be pretty dull, so a Klarifi can help make it more engaging. In that case we even gamified the Klarifi, giving the viewer a chance to score themselves against the information within the big picture. 

Stage 3

Create the roadmap, or foundation for the piece.

Actual graphics! The fun part, for me at least. I’ve learned over the years of building Karifis that it’s really important to try and get the foundation / groundwork / roadmap (whatever you want to call it) as close to finalised as possible from the outset, since everything is almost literally built from the ground up from that point, and it can be tricky to move things around afterwards.

This is example is kept simple as it’s a linear ‘journey’ rather than multi-zoned areas or departments

I’ve always thought of it like playing Sim City – when you start out with an open space it’s really easy to put things wherever you want, but once a few citizens have moved in, you’ve placed your roads, and your business zones are full and thriving, it’s much much harder to move things around. Forgot to add in your public transport systems? Balls. That’s gonna mean a lot of time and money to retrofit.

I digress, but you get the idea. 99% of Klarifi’s are isometric diagrams, so it also helps to grid things up a bit (also another reason I like doing cities). You can get more random and organic shapes to work, but it tends to be a little more effort, and can take a lot more time to create certain graphical elements…

Stage 4

Create and place the main elements

Foundation in place, let’s build some stuff. We have a good idea from Stage 2 of which elements we need, and the roadmap should to some extent dictate where they go. In some ways this is the easiest part of the entire process, but it can also be the most time consuming. 

This makes it look really easy. In reality, choosing the correct graphics to represent individual concepts can be a tricky undertaking

I’ll often start to build up a bank of elements through Stage 3, giving me a good idea of the style of the piece, and the relative size of individual elements and detail level we need to achieve in order to create something that looks cohesive and works on both the big picture and small detail level.

This is about as Sim City as it gets, it feels practical, and I genuinely love this part of the Klarifi process. It’s both creative and logical in equal measure, and to me that’s what design is at its core. How often do you get to build a city from scratch, or an airport, or university campus? That’s exactly what this feels like. Stage 4 is building up flooring, walls, doors, walkways, departments, islands, all the spaces that provide context for the information to sit within.

I knew all those years playing Sim City would be worth it, one day.

Stage 5

Add or refine details to bring it to life for the viewer, and reflect the brand

Signage is more fun than you’d imagine, and this is where that gets created. Here’s where a lot of details are added to the graphic to bring it to life and into the real world. With roads you want reasonably accurate road markings (people notice when things are wrong more than when they’re right) and vehicles adhering to the correct traffic laws, with ‘places’ in general it helps to have a few people milling about, perhaps drinking coffee or waiting for their flight. 

Detail work, lighting effects, branding. Not to be confused with ‘filling all the space’ or overcomplicating things, just adding enough polish to make it feel real.

This is where we make sure the brand we’re working with is represented as part of the graphic. Usually that involves some fairly subtle colouring throughout, or adding their logo to computer screens or signage. It could even be uniforms, or making sure certain people within the organisation are represented on the picture. We don’t always mention these on first viewing, but let the client discover them as little easter eggs.

At the end of this, I do a lot of zooming out to make sure the whole picture works well, looks balanced, and is easy to navigate, to work out areas of interest and get a rough idea of how information is zoned. Sometimes that’s easy, but occasionally it’ll require some additional floor marking or pointers to make it a little clearer. We forget how much we follow these indicators in real life (never forget how supermarkets are designed to make you follow a pre-determined path to make you spend more), so these things can actually make it all seem more real, more tangible.

Stage 6

Add in filters and Information points

SO that’s the picture done. We then place numbered information points on the diagram and make sure the information we need to disseminate lines up with those points, often going back to the original bullet-pointed information to ensure it aligns with the picture as well as possible. 

Pictures rarely say a thousand words. So these clickable hotspots and filters allow us to add text, links, videos and downloads to relevant areas.

These generally fall into 4 or 5 main headings or sectors, which allows us to filter which information points are highlighted at any one time. With a city for example, it’s a good way to track how different ‘customers’ (be they residents or business people) access different city services – often using the same spaces, but in very different ways.

Stage 7

Plug in to the Klarifi Technology and present.

With the picture ready, and the information neatly summarised and classified, the technical team plug it all into the Klarifi technology. This allows people to view the big picture, zoom in and out, filter the information spots, and focus on a single point for further information. We can also link to external web pages, PDF documents, Powerpoint Decks, or video to augment any of the information even further.

Here’s where it all comes together. Making it zoomable and interactive shows how we can now ‘cram in’ a load of information from different sources, whilst always keeping the wider context in view.

Presenting this much information in its most basic form would be pretty dull, tiring to work through, and not at all engaging, even if you were interested. A Klarifi brings everything together in a way that doesn’t seek to replace any other information sources, but helps to access that information in a far more appealing and engaging way. It simplifies the complex in the most visual way possible.

And for my part, I love the fact that part of my job is to help create these. To design the picture, to build it up layer by layer. To add little details that make it more life-like. It goes way beyond the day-to-day design work I usually do – and allows the creative and logical parts of my brain to play together, and I don’t know any designer that doesn’t love that concept. 

From big heads to airports and worldwide currency exchange. Klarifi has helped simplify many different concepts and solutions.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading the first in the Let’s Create… series I’m planning. Look out for the next one soon!

A little more about Klarifi

Klarifi’s mission is to simplify the complex, to provide clarity where there is confusion and to help people to communicate even the most sophisticated of messages or information more easily and more successfully. Klarifi brings your story and your proposition to life thanks to a robust and proven consultancy process, and a powerful, interactive, visual delivery platform.

Klarifi Website

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