This lecture is part of the National Council for Preservation Education meeting held July 15-16, 2014 in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

The Use of Infographics in Preservation Planning by Andrea Livi Smith and Tasha Horton, University of Mary Washington

Infographics are nothing new: Minard’s seminal map of Napoleon’s campaign in Russia is still impressive one hundred fifty years later. Still, infographics have recently exploded in popularity. They can now be found in almost any publication, from the New York Times on down. Numerous scholars have opined both on their effectiveness and on their usages, most famously Edward Tufte, who has published extensively on the matter.

Infographics are proving to be one of the most effective ways of conveying information to a broader audience: they require only a short attention span, and are easily disseminated either in print or better yet, online. They are particularly useful in preservation planning because they break down and explain processes and ideas that may otherwise be difficult for the public – and even preservationists – to understand.

A senior capstone course sought to teach students how to use this emerging medium in a preservation planning context. During the semester, students learned varied software including Adobe Photoshop and InDesign and the Apple iWork suite in both formal sessions and through trial and error. They worked first in teams and then on their own. The early team projects tackled the Section 106 process. This allowed students to develop their skills and start finding their style in a supportive setting. After this introduction, students embarked on their own piece, where they selected a preservation planning issue. Their chosen topics included gentrification, transfer of development rights, urban growth boundaries, and adaptive reuse. In a studio environment, with periodic in-class critique, the final infographics were developed and fine-tuned.

This paper discusses the development of the course, the challenges of the learning process – particularly regarding the software requirements – and the impact on the students as a whole. In addition to the course instructor, a student from the course will also provide her perspective via Skype. As digital media become more and more mainstream not only in daily life but our professional lives as well, the skills imparted in this course will become even more relevant. One student commented at the end of the semester that “this should be offered every year”, making it clear that this is of real use to preservation planners.

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