Designing data for action

Door Klaas van der Veen 23 November 2017

We need to improve access to medicine for the poor. That was the conviction of Wim Leereveld, founder of the Access to Medicine Foundation. How?

The foundation sends questionnaires. The research team distills the data, discovering patterns. This is information. The heads of research add an interpretation to the data. This is knowledge: we see a pattern in the data, we see cause and effect. On the world stage, the executives build on this: “we have measured this, now it’s you turn to do something about it”. This is wisdom, to know what’s the right thing to do.

Now, if you want journalists, NGO’s, government agencies and investors to pick up your findings and act upon them, you’d better find a form. Ideas cannot travel the globe without form. A website, report or mailing generates, through its content, the pressure needed to change things.


Design is instrumental.
My work discovering what form (graphics, layout, tables) convey the data and the interpretations best. I guide the researchers and communications team to the best possible ‘carrier’ of their data and stories. At the same time, a good design motivates the team and simplifies the workflow across print and web.

The index itself is a bulky thing, but its spinoff consist of a lot of products: web images, interactive graphs, slides, downloadables, special issues, articles. The design enables the repurposing of the main product. This approach is useful, not only for communications, but also for writers. All content is structured, modular, layered. The whole team knows what design can do for them.

All I’m saying…
… is that I can handle confidential data, large projects, error-free delivery, a workflow with a 20+ person team, to give make your ideas travel the globe …
Here’s some imagery!

This idea of compiling an index that measures how big pharma behaves, it matters.

The idea needs a compelling form to travel the world to find support. (original corporate style by Ontwerpwerk design agency)

Imagine a pyramid, sorted data at the bottom, chapters, results, key findings in the middle and super-compact info at the top. This image is the top of the pyramid. If the foundation can send only one image, this is it. It contains subject, person, measurement and the big question, in one banner.


This is the cover of the latest report. It’s to top of the communication chain. It says ‘this is about antimicrobial, it’s about real people, it’s about measurement, and this is the sender’.

The main channel to attract attention is the website. Most of the report is interactively accessible here.

On the website, all figures are made interactive. (figures built by Explanation Design in Infogram, website built by and

This is the solid groundwork of the knowledge-communication chain: 30 companies have in-depth data included in the AMR report, on 80 pages. Dense pages, packed with faultless, well-researched stuff. 

The very same three key figures appear on the business card, the website header, the mail chimp banner. There’s a strong unity of form, and unity of message.

Key Findings. Four single pages with findings distilled from the full report.

Report Cards: detailed info on all 30 companies. Quite deep, because readers who choose to read these, are well informed.

Each Research Area has a chapter, starting off with scores, context and introduction, followed by detailed accounts.

Many pages from the report re-appear elsewhere as interactive figures or tweetable chunks of information.



Explanation Design creates a style for the ‘first look’, and also for in-depth copy and data that support that first key message.

The ATM Foundations bulletin board. Team members are inspired by what their research eventually will look like.

The Access to Medicine Reports are a team effort. The communications room is turned into an editor’s office, the report ‘growing’ each day.

Explanation Design makes numerous secondary reports, spinoff of the larger reports or dedicated editions for use with particular stakeholders.


The mainstay of each report is the Report Card section. All data about one company is aggregated on 2-4 pages.

The most important design feature is the simultaneous offering of both supershort and super detailed information in the same report or even on the same page. The pale green box is the quick version of the information on the page.

We frequently make slide decks for all kinds of presentations, events or meetings. They usually refer to parts of the reports.

Seldom do we use complicated infographics. I think the bar chart, the donut and the dot table perform well, in terms of effective communication. Sometimes we use an exploded donut series.


Of some information, a tweetable version is made. It can survive outside of its usual context.

If you really, really need all the info, in print. There’s readers who scan the information and trust the sender, and there’s readers who want to look things up. In print. Of course, digital info would work more easily, but the overview would be gone.

Interestingly: the ‘green girl’ is loved by most, but the ‘blue guy’ attracts more attention, people frequently asking where he’s from. The reason? I think the girl fits the ‘woman on cover’ habit, and the man looks a lot more real. And reality, that’s what it’s all about.


(three images) The Access to Vaccines Index report card, scoring per research area and overall scoring. A clear series of graphs, ranging from industry level to company level.

Raw ingredients, put together by the team. The team gets more infographic-savvy by the minute, and learns (by doing) how infographics can help convey their message.