I met Sara Holcombe while giving a talk in Atlanta last year. I’m so glad to be sharing her work with you, too. –Ann


About eight months ago I was given a brief for an infographic about different plagues and outbreaks that have reached the US since the Spanish Flu in the 1800s and how they’ve affected our population and economy. The gist is that because our world is insanely interconnected and we can travel pretty much anywhere in a day or two, it puts us at risk for a huge pandemic that we need to be prepared for.

Here’s how I developed the infographic over time.

The first thing I did was sketch out a few ideas in Photoshop. I normally do this by hand in my sketch book but I was full of ideas and really wanted to see them in a more concrete way, on the screen. I “sketched” these concepts in order to figure out the best way to display this timeline.

Sara Holcombe's initial drafts of her infographic

I usually lay out the sketches that are working best without the pressure of thinking about design. This helps me focus on whether or not the graphic makes sense to most viewers. I rely heavily on the “mom test” where I take the infographic to people who are not designers, give them time to look at it and ask for them to tell me what the infographic is about. This is usually a great way to figure out what’s working and what’s not.

To me, it’s super important that most people (given a pretty good attention span) can understand the graphic I’m making. The way it looks should aid in telling the story without getting in the way.

I wanted this infographic to be more playful and relevant, in the hopes that it would reach a larger audience. I added vintage photos and I generally tried to keep the design funky and bright with the skull icons, tinted black and white photos and the punchy green gradient.

Here’s more progression:

Here’s more progression:

Before I started this infographic, I’d say I borderline hated the color purple. But because purple doesn’t have a particular association with it (green = healthy and red = alarm), it leaves us with an advantage in branding our work.

The outline I was given was word-heavy. I made the quotes more visual by adding photos of the authors. I also pushed for less text on this piece. I wanted the economic graph to stand out and the amount of deaths in red to read immediately. Finally I added the red box around “The Next Flu” because I took Ann’s workshop and realized how important annotations are. The one thing I’d want a viewer to take away from this is the impact a flu could have on us now.

The infographic isn’t entirely finished yet. I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing the progression. Stay tuned to see a final version later on.

Sara Holcombe's latest draft of the infographic


Sara HolcombeSara Holcombe is a visual storyteller. She didn’t start out with graphic design, though. She studied photojournalism, then learned video and somewhere along the way while working for non-profits and science-based organizations, she picked up graphic design as well. Now she does her best to use all three, taking complex data and ideas and making that data understandable and interesting for visual learners like her. She’s like the middle (wo)man between the people making the data and the people who need to know about the stories that data tell. Currently she works in Atlanta as a contractor.