Information with a friendly face

Information with a friendly face

You can shorten and delete until information is very compact. But you can also create a book so charming that readers will sit up and take notice. The pagecount might run up, as long as editing and design helps keep it readable and recognizable.

An example: the craftsman-enthusiast

Louis Kat is an extraordinary man. Immensely specialized. He spends his life honing his knowledge on 1 subject: wine.
He traveled endlessly to France to seek out the right winery. Days of tasting and taking notes to come home with the right wine.

Wijnkoperij Okhuysen, the company he grew, is 150 years old. The story of your business is told best in a book. That is the right form. Still. A book doesn’t fill itself; you need a plan for that.
(Or actually it does fill itself, with all that stuff from the archives. A typical jubilee book tells “everything,” and that’s only fun for friends and family.)

A decision is needed. An answer to the question “what kind of book should this be?

A decision against chaos

Enough clues. The Okhuysen company was built on the travels of Monsieur Louis. We put those travels first and centre. Travel stories are a distinct genre, guidebooks a distinct form. Wine regions are a familiar structure, and each region has recognizable specifics to guide the wine buyer. The plan is ready. It ends all hesitation. All content you thought “should that be in there?” is dropped, or fit in seamlessly. With this plan, the impression of overload, of going in all directions has disappeared. Swapped for a pleasant order. And within the travel stories there appears to be enough variety to never bore the reader. And then there is Mr. Kat himself. He said “I can see my readers just opening the book in the evening, in a nice chair, with a good glass of wine.

“I see it as my text.”

Mr. Kat started writing. From his memory and from old notebooks. A hell of a job. Editing we did together, an intimate process. What happened at the book level (a clear decision) repeats itself at this lower level: ‘what is each individual story about?’ An unexpected encounter, a stroke of luck, a tough fight for that one winemaker’s attention? Having decided that, you can delete, and clarify. The writer was clear about my editing: “I read it as my text, but at the same time greatly admire how you condensed it and summarized redundant information elsewhere. My compliments!”

To bring the book to the present, I visited 25 wine estates to take pictures of the landscape and cellars. The photos and contemporary maps make it clear: you can just go there by following the Route du Soleil.

I failed on 1 point (I’ll do better for you!): the text correction of the hundreds of wonderful French and Spanish place, person and wine names, I didn’t see that coming. Fortunately, team Okhuysen was able to free up time. Saved!

Most important for experts and book designers?

Quiet, prolonged closeness to your subject. Together.
This is how the book gets a soul.

book design expert beautiful

Monsieur Louis, an expert’s book on finding the best wine.


For photography, I visited 25 wine estates. Here at Guffens, where tradition and stainless steel go together.

book design expert beautiful

An index of 600 names of winemakers, wines and fields.

Superb vineyards in Bandol.


book design expert beautiful

After a double page with a photo of the region, each chapter of the book opens with a map and an introduction.




book design expert beautiful

Map insets, when the vineyard visited was part of a large area.


book design expert beautiful

All kinds of options for the pages were tested.

This was not the last project where I found myself in the landscape around sunrise.

At work in Spain, Rueda.

This is how to mobilize support

This is how to mobilize support

Making the world a better place. How do you contribute, as a scientist? You research a problem and discover a solution. You write everything down precisely in a report, with hefty tables and lots of footnotes. That gives you satisfaction and lots of citations.

But no audience.

Communications people want something very different. Those looking for juicy headlines with good images and short text. Infographics that do 1 thing at a time. Material to fill a mailing, a homepage or a tweet, and that’s how you reach supporters.

Careful scientists clash with communications people. Where I go, one of either group is always unhappy.

What if you saw all information as one thing? One unit, from raw data to conclusion. Not a separate report, nor a mailing, but “a thing” for effectively spreading an idea, a substantiated idea, which as yet has no particular form. In designer language, this is called medium-free thinking.

I see two questions:

1 What should we do to spread our idea?
2 What should we tell people to establish our authority?

The answer to question 1 is “something that works” (reaches the reader), the answer to question 2 is “something that is right” (convinces the reader). Those two things have to come together. The golden mean, of course, is “something you can easily send that is derived from something that is totally right. You send out a mailing or investor summary, you post an article on LinkedIn, and you tweet the best infographics. Always with a link to the full report.

Research > report > infographics

How does such a thing work. Two examples: the Access to Medicine Index and Superlist reports.

    0) The study. A hefty document that will not be sent out, except to some reviewers.
    1) The plank (old printing term for “all the pages in a row”). What topics should be covered in what order in a concise version of the report?
    2) What parts of it should be ready to use or send separately?
    3) What findings or insights were gained from the research?
    4) How do you make the findings fit for 1 tweet, 1 powerpoint slide or 1 video?
    5) Are there any findings that you can broadcast on specific occasions?
    6) Within the report: what is the distinction between raw data, filtered data, its interpretation by our experts and their opinion about it?
    7) Your tables and research data, do they have a public-friendly version? And is the web version different from the print version?

This already looks quite a bit like a communications strategy, or something else with -strategy behind it.

Chicken or egg?

You strategize and have meetings for a very long time, and only then start making things. I’ll tell you: the pages made will force you to adjust the strategy again. A much better option is to start making stuff right away. simultaneously, strategy forms, simply because everything you create raises questions. Does this work? Who exactly is it for? What exactly does it say?

The same goes for textual content: if you write that first and then create the assets, this written text will not fit will not work. With me, writing and design go hand in hand. Really much more efficient.

Most importantly?

You can show your report when you are on stage and everyone is watching.

(See photo in header: Jayashree Iyer with the 2018 Antimicrobial Resistance Benchmark at the World Economic Forum in Davos)




Questionmark Foundation collects data on supermarkets. What are supermarkets doing to move toward a sustainable food system? Little, it turns out, but something. And it will surprise you which supermarkets contribute the most. (


Superlist reports kick off with 1 spread with a summary and that single key infographic. The rest follows.

Each subtopic has its own chapter that again begins with a summary and a figure. All of these components are also available separately as social media stuff.


For Access to Medicine Foundation (which measures what Big Pharma is doing for access to medicine in poor countries) I made a huge pile of reports, slides and stuff for the media between 2012 and 2022.

research report infographics

Also with the Access to Medicine Index, the report starts with an Executive Summary, which contains everything + 1 central figure: The Index.


Did I say everything had to be short? Well, this is short for investors and decision makers. Any shorter and they won’t trust it and won’t read it. Of this typical page (called the report card) we have built increasingly sophisticated versions over the years. Of course, this data is also on web. However, on screen, it’s hard to get an overview and see details at the same time. On web, you can compare and filter the data by company and by item, though.

research report infographics

Radial diagrams in Antimicrobial Resistance Benchmark 2018. Exotic.

The briefest message, visual chic, with the Executive Director.

True story: ‘Klaas, can you design this page first so we can write?’ See, that makes sense. Writing first yields things that don’t fit, designing first gives the writers information about each component on the page: the length of the introduction, the size of the captions to the figure.
Pretty full, but nice and full, lots of info.


research report infographics

There is a separate version for investors: thin, yet with everything an investor wants to know. (Investors interested in the Access to Medicine Index represent $18 trillion in assets)


Image for newsletter header.

research report infographics

Each report contains between 50 and 300 figures, which can be prepared as a selection, with customized text, for web and socials.

Maps are also always needed: where is it, how many countries?

Reports on subtopics have different covers and format. The report on the right most closely resembles a scholarly article, which starts right on the cover.

research report infographics

Compact information can become super-high density. It looks like “wow, they know a lot,” but also like “gee, do I have to read all this? Depends on the readership if this works well.

research report infographics

Perhaps this is finest: 1 observation, explained and accompanied by a figure. Want to know more? Read more on the website or in the report.

A lock with ten doors

A lock with ten doors

It’s like being back in class with one of those older history teachers. He explains how things are, exuding that you are stupid for not knowing. This is the tone of voice of many information panels.

When I travel, signs with a beautiful image of a cathedral’s ground form or a coalmines insides make me happy. Something I can’t see is revealed. The situation of 400 years ago or the way a defensive structure works, for example. With a concise text attached (but not too brief). An attractive image about heritage gives you exactly what you need to discover the value of it.


You would say: you can do so much more with digital tools. But they are invisible in the field. With an app you haven’t loaded yet, you drive past a place of interest; a panel actually alerts you to it. Besides, you would be on your phone again, and you pick it up 80 times a day already. (Many young people and seniors do not have an endless data plan, that also plays a role)

So a panel after all.

Rewarding the reader

With information that significantly advances the experience, complemented by a QR code (digital after all ;-)). With that, you can find an expert who tells you something, or a video of how it works. Then the board rewards the reader. It should. Otherwise the visitor won’t stop for the next panel, and he might become completely sign-weary: “What are all these ugly plastic prints with big logos doing in my beautiful landscape?”, he might think. Yes, I dare say: fancy design only creates noise.


The water system around Utrecht is harrowingly complicated, and citizens and tourists experience its operation (or maintenance work on it) on a daily basis. And it’s just nice to know what it’s all for. The example below is about the Waaiersluis in Gouda. A lock with very special doors, constructed in such a way that they can be operated against the power of rising water. Passersby and tourists often have to wait there, and the sign is located exactly at that spot. Close to the lock. So you can look around you and compare it with the panel to check what you’re looking at. And the other way round.

If I’m honest, there’s too much information on it.
But then again, my mission is not yet accomplished.
My best information panel I am yet to make.


You can read more about visitors, heritage and the stories about them here.

More on beautiful information panels, here.

information panel on heritage beautiful picture

Just a nice thing to look at, centered on the information panel about the National Monument the Waaiersluis in Gouda.


information panel on heritage beautiful picture

A job like this for me always starts with doing fieldwork. Let’s go there and speak to everyone involved. Funny: the technical guy from the water board (right) knows theory, but the Lock Master (with cap) knows practice. Moreover, you could have fun with him as he was full of anecdotes.


The most interesting part is stationary or underwater. But not in a drawing or animation....

A fan door at rest. The point of a Waaiersluis door is that it can be closed against the ebb or flow of the tide. Ordinary lock doors are pushed out of their frames when you try to close them against the current. The special doors are there at Gouda because the tide comes all this way inland. The lock is the most inland sea wall, so to speak.


information panel on heritage where the operation is explained with beautiful and fun images

The entire panel measures 90cm by 180cm and is quite an encyclopedia. But it is half the size of the old panel it replaces. The panel on the left describes the history and struggles surrounding the invention, then an explanation of how a lock works, then a map showing the importance of the lock, a diagram explaining all the different door heights, the operation of the doors and finally the operation of the pumping stations and fish passages.


The old panel. More text, and more explanation, but in a schoolmasterly way. A nice image about heritage reduces the chance of people developing ‘teacher-weariness’.


a heritage information panel answers basic questions. The answers make you look more closely.

Hefty diagram explaining all water heights and lock gate heights. Note how on the right the suburbs of Gouda are lower than even the lowest water level


Heritage information panel: nice image about the operation of a lock.

The operation of the locks was depicted straight from above on the old panel, now the drawing is isometric so layout and depths can be seen simultaneously. That’s easier to understand.


information panel on heritage beautiful picture

The operation of the special doors and fish passages is seen straight from above, though. You can easily relate this diagram to the large drawing in the center of the board. By the way, the website for the information board is


Just as a water board has a workshop, in Illustrator I have a yard full of individual parts 😉

Modern installations underneath heritage.

It is not difficult. If there is a whole system underground, just draw a picture of it. But one that is less complicated than the engineers’ drawing, of course.


beautiful image about heritage

On the final panel it looks like this: you see the mill with everything around it, with insets for the underground parts, depicted just a little larger, and with their own descriptions.


Here beauty flows

Here beauty flows

At first I didn’t understand why they were calling me. They had everything. Storylines, a corporate identity, an inspiration guide, 3D visuals, an image bank. Then I looked more closely. I saw distance everywhere. Scientific detachment. Objectivity. As can be expected of scientists. But if you want to captivate audiences then you need stories. Closeness. Intimacy even.

How do you accomplish that?


1 Do not overwhelm

For starters, by not overwhelming the reader. Stories made for visitors are shorter and much more visual. Actually, nothing new. I said, let me make drawings. Primarily because the Zeeland and Flemish geology is all but invisible in photos. The landscape is quite subtle here, no volcanoes or glaciers or cliffs, but silt and peat and terrain relief of only half a meter. Illustrations solve that.

2 Getting very close to the subject.

You would want to replace the scientific distance with first-hand information. Seeing the place through the eyes of someone who is always in the landscape. Not difficult: I suggested selecting and interviewing users of the landscape, such as farmers, rangers and ecologists. On location, not via Zoom of course. Great fun to do, you immediately gather intriguing observations.

3 Being with the subject for a long time.

To know which picture is the best, and what you want to represent in a drawing, and then to decide what the soul of the landscape is, you just have to go there. I suggested visiting all the places in the Geopark on foot. Really on foot, not by parking next to it first. I’ll bring my little tent.

The client was convinced.

And I was motivated, eager to start. Only someone very close to the subject can make something valuable. Although I imagine that walking 593 kilometers is not the only way. It is my way.

May the reader decide to visit the Geopark.
I hope the stories convince him to.
Because once you are in the landscape, you are sold.

Geopark Scheldt Delta website

My instagram reels about this project are also fun to check out.

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

‘Here beauty flows’ brochure, English translation and back cover

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

The inside cover includes a map of all geological sites

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

The drawings contain very un-geological details, such as this man with cap, who does not like being on the beach.


Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

One edition is bound with a cahier stitch.

Hard work, this project. The 6 hikes I took in the fall of 2022. 600km visiting most of the 40 geological sites.

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

The booklet contains 12 stories and 12 drawings. Below each drawing is a ‘tourist text’.

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

I experimented a bit with different eras in 1 drawing. This is only done in 1 drawing. The clay mining at Boom is the origin story of the landscape.


Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

The cabbages of the Noë brothers near Sint-Margriete in the Meetjesland are in the picture, along with the Escholtzia they grow for tinctures.

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

Each story has a “navigation thingy” where reference is made to the Geopark locations, numbered on the overview map.

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

In the same style as the landscape drawings, there are block diagrams on geology and geomorphology. It doesn’t get any simpler than this.

Reclamation, accretion and embankment explained with a kind of maps.

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

The block diagrams are accompanied by a very short text referring to the locations.


Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

Most of the photos were taken by me while on the road in the landscape. From really close up. Most “official” landscape photos about the geology of the area are very nice, but often they give “overview,” or try to show the whole, and that doesn’t work so well, I think.

Beautiful images about geology, and fascinating text

There is also an English translation.

Geology determines what people do in a landscape.

With Soan Lang Ie (IVN hostess of the landscape) along Het Zwin near Cadzand. An interview about sea buckthorns, sea fennel and cyclists rushing on.


Stories for visitors. If you want to show people geology, you will have to do more than recite the facts. What you need is a story, and beautiful images. Geology defines what people do in a landscape.

6 walks totaling 600 kilometers resulted in 12 stories and 12 drawings. Those drawings go from sketch (choosing location and choosing what you see there) to researching source material, to final result. The view as shown in the drawing can’t be seen like that in reality. But that is precisely the power of drawings. Visual stories for visitors are engaging, not scientifically correct.


Nice image about geology

Sometimes the first sketch is in a different place, and with a different subject. On the left the Kalkense Meersen near Schellebelle, later it became a peat pit in the paleomeander of Berlare, because that is where the focus of the story is. Middle: The first style I chose was woodcut. I gouged out (digitally, but by hand) all the white. That style did not fall well, so it was honed (right) into the successor to Japanese woodcuts, the clear line. Sort of.

Stories for visitors. If you want to show people geology, you will have to do more than recite the facts. What you need is a story, and beautiful images. Geology defines what people do in a landscape.

The very first visual style was even simpler, really a woodcut with few print runs, bright colors and overprinting inks. Foraging spoonbills in a tidal channel in the Drowned Land of Saeftinghe take all the attention. The one on the right is a bit more neutral, with the ship less prominent, but the banks of the gullies (the geological share) much better in view.


Stories for visitors. If you want to show people geology, you will have to do more than recite the facts. What you need is a story, and beautiful images. Geology defines what people do in a landscape.

Yerseke. On the left there is still a cut between below and above water, but that trick has been abolished (only 1 drawing with an inset remains). Center the earlier woodcut style, right the more plain line and much fresher colors. My goodness such a lot of work. Very impossible point of view, by the way. You can’t see IN the oyster pits from anywhere near the floodline of course 😉


Stories for visitors. Beautiful images about geology. Geological maps and impressions. A geography book, actually.

Then there is a section in the booklet explaining all the geological phenomena involved in the area. Here, writing was especially a chore: how could I explain Quaternary geology and geomorphology in 16 x 50 words?
The drawings are block diagrams, sections and views, in roughly the style of the large drawings. For harmony and a hint of comprehensibility (in the booklet, of course, all parts are labeled).


Stories for visitors. If you want to show people geology, you will have to do more than recite the facts. What you need is a story, and beautiful images.

Really, seeing everything up close, and smelling, and feeling, is essential. (Tidal mudflat near Sint-Annaland, Tholen)


Stories for visitors. If you want to show people geology, you will have to do more than recite the facts. What you need is a story, and beautiful images.

Camping at De Wachtsluis near Cadzand. Good conversation with the farmers. I did all the visiting of Geopark sites on foot. Makes you see more. Brought the tent, wonderful isn’t it?

Beautiful imagery and fascinating stories about geology.

Very tempting: showing what it looked like 4,000 and 1,500 years ago. But only in the NL part have measurements been made, and even then, how would you convert information about soil types into something of a landscape image? An important message for scientists: better not call these maps, people would think they are accurate. Better call these impressions. (They would have been 45×45 mm in the booklet)


Stories for visitors. If you want to show people geology, you will have to do more than recite the facts. What you need is a story, and beautiful images. Geological maps and impressions

A spin-off: three maps for Zonneland magazine, for children. 12,000 years ago and 1,500 years ago. In such a magazine, the maps immediately feel like impressions, not accurate maps. For children, my fictional Flemish country is allowed to be drawn. (Based on all kinds of studies)


Stories for visitors. If you want to show people geology, you will have to do more than recite the facts. What you need is a story, and beautiful images.

Of course, I had to watch out for an overly Dutch focus. But Flanders, and especially the banks of the Scheldt, are so interesting, I became a fan. Flemish correctors did their best to keep things Flemish. Freshwater tides and so on. Those visual stories for visitors must, of course, appeal to Flemish people as well.

The black-tailed godwit and its information panels

The black-tailed godwit and its information panels

Farmers talk about crop yield. Birders talk about recognizing a species.
Now that pasture birds have been shown to have declined by at least 75% in numbers and farmers are barely left with an income even when production is higher than ever, farmers and birds are coming into the public eye. And that audience could use some knowledge, preferably in the field. That can be done, with beautiful information panels about the landscape, the birds and the farmers.
The Vogelbescherming (society for the protection of birds) – masters at combining photos of beautiful birds with depressing stories – asked me to devise information panels for a meadowland bird protection project in the Bovenkerkerpolder between Amstelveen and Uithoorn. Dairy farmers have set up their own dairy factory there, and the proceeds pay for measures that help meadowland birds. And that’s not exactly the only link between farmer and bird.

Harnessing the science

Knowledge about meadowland birds comes from many sources. Ecologists, biologists, water board people and the agricultural academia produce many a report full of jargon and statistics. The information is always created at one party, so even if a concerned citizen can read it at all, they will never see the whole picture.
So that’s my first task: to show the whole thing.
But is that from the perspective of bird conservation, or from that of farmers? You know what, I’ll start in the middle. By everyday concepts: grass, manure, open space and water. This way the reader is engaged. No barriers here. These simple themes form a base to fall back on. So the text can go on to introduce food chains, migration routes and mowing methods. All these different scientific fields are connected by the four basic themes.

The reader (both farmer and bird lover) hooks into a simple concept. Open space, manure, water and grass. Let’s go deeper.

Traditional nature information starts with an animal, a bird in this case, and puts that at the top. The farmer dangles somewhere at the bottom. In this project, the four simple concepts from the landscape give farmer and bird equal importance.

Actually, we are asking the visitor to determine his or her position on the matter. That’s really just politics. The Bird Conservancy wants the slide all the way to the right, and it will only succeed if farmers can see the point.

Using art

It would be crazy not to use the beauty of the birds in this story. They lend their charisma to the panels, and you can spot them from afar. An attractive panel promises that you are going to find out something worthwhile. There’s tension between the protagonists (the birds and the farmers): who gets it the way he wants it? What situation would you prefer, as a reader and visitor? Spatial information (about mowing, water levels or where the chicks move in case of danger) is explained through drawings. There’s bits of candy: flowers, insects, the labels attached to the illustrations and diagrams, the beautiful names the flowers have. All these drawings allow the text to be nice and short.

Showing the consequences

The information and drawings are recognizably “green,” but it is not the usual marketing with big logos on it. The Bird Conservancy says: our organization sees the other party as equals. Readers who are not conservationists are not deterred. But the first sentence of the panel on grass does say, “The milk is too cheap”. As far as I am concerned, this is a fact (I put this sentence on it and glad it was not deleted). The observation “what the farmer wants is at odds with what the bird needs” is specified here: “what the farmer wants is what the consumer asks of him.”
If the citizens believe that the birds should be protected, then they should prevent their internal consumers from buying the cheapest milk.

It’s nice to design beautiful information panels about landscape and nature for clients that address issues that are normally dismissed with “that’s just how the world works”. If you flatout show things how they are, how a problem comes into being, then everyone can see how they can help.
For starters, buy milk from the Farmers of Amstel.
Just because-it’s so delicious 😉

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

The panels are a kind of hybrid: text, infographics and illustrations fused together.

[caption id="attachment_8745" align="alignleft" width="2560"] To avoid putting new objects in the field, the signs are attached to an oak plank, which are mounted with brackets on the top edge of existing field gates.

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

Beautiful information panels about landscape and nature on field fences along the bike route. There is also a viewfinder, a viewpoint with information in three parts about bird migration to south, east and north.


Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

In one corner of each sign a card and a milk carton with the reason for these signs: buy ‘meadowland bird milk’ to pay for the measures. Really tasty milk, of course.


Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

Attaching signs to the viewfinder. Local businesses cut the boards, attached the signs and built the viewpoint. The panels themselves are made of dibond with a car-wrap sticker printed on a 6-color press. Marvellous soft gradients!


Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature, viewfinder Natuurmonumenten

Viewfinder in meadow bird landscape De Slaag, for Natuurmonumenten.

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

Previous series of signs on metal field gates in the Eemland region, for Natuurmonumenten.

No new objects in the landscape. That already makes a big difference.

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

All panels contain explanations, via supersized text and a diagrams. Here you can see how meadowland bird management actually harkens back to the conditions of the past, before large-scale livestock farming.


Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

The birds depicted are not birds, they are really illustrations, with clean line and filled with patterns reminiscent of Japanese woodcut techniques.

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

On the viewfinder you will find at the top edge all the areas where birds migrate to from the Bovenkerkerpolder. This is an oystercatcher, who prefers not to go too far away.


Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

Swans fly to the Pjasina Delta on the Taymir Peninsula in Siberia. In four stages!

Beautiful information panels on landscape and nature

Curlews do not fly north or south, but west to British wetlands.