Introducing Design With: A Reboot Podcast Series

Last year, we hosted four incredible interviews with folks driving radical collaborations across the globe. Our world has transformed so much in the time since, but the wisdom of these great leaders sustains. Take a listen.

We are actively engaged in the dialogue and debates of our space: on issues of social justice, global development, and democratic innovation, and on the ethics and methodological evolution of design, mediation, and co-creation practice. More of our writing can be found at Medium.

Leading the Adaptive Management Agenda

From May 23th to 27th, Panthea Lee will participate in USAID’s Science, Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (STIP) Summit in Pretoria, South Africa. Hosted by USAID’s Global Development Lab, the conference will gather leaders from the Agency’s missions worldwide. Panthea will lead a discussion on adaptive management and its integration to USAID’s programs on May 23rd, and speak about Reboot’s experience with participatory innovation methods at a plenary on May 27th.

Tech Innovation for Sustainable Development

Next week Zack Brisson will speak at the ICT4D Conference, a global summit on using technology to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, in Nairobi. On May 16th, Zack will discuss adaptive management and problem-driven design in a session on “Systems Change: Real-Time Data for Agile, Responsible and Participatory Development” with Dr. Samir Doshi from USAID. On May 17th, he will present My Voice, Reboot’s open source tool for feedback and accountability, and using digital tools to improve basic human services. Follow along on Twitter with #ICT4D2016.

Making Feedback Smart

Panthea Lee will facilitate Feedback Labs’ Smart Summit on May 12th in Washington, DC. Practitioners and experts in aid, development, and philanthropy will gather at the World Bank to discuss the value of beneficiary feedback in program design and outcomes. Read the background paper, and register to attend here.

Emergent Learning for Impact

On May 9th at 3 pm, Zack Brisson will discuss the evolving practice of adaptive learning with fellow thinkers and practitioners in Washington, DC. Hosted by the Results for Development Institute, the conversation will explore new approaches to impact evaluation and practical limitations to closing feedback loops. Register to attend on Eventbrite.

Converging on the Impact of Civic Technology

On April 27th and 28th, Nicole Anand will join global thought leaders in civic technology and digital democracy at TICTec, The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference, in Barcelona. On April 28th at 11:30 am local time, Nicole Anand will present on our experience with media users in West Africa. Follow the event on Twitter with #TICTeC2016.

Harnessing Engagement for Digital Innovations

On April 19th, Adam Talsma will participate in a panel on stakeholder engagement strategies as part of the Innovation Africa Digital Summit in Abuja. Using our MyVoice platform as a case study, he will discuss how to ensure that tech innovations reach their intended audience and objectives.

Lessons from Five Years of Reboot

A New Podcast on “Entryism,” Design, and the Reboot Story from Co-Founder Panthea Lee

From 140 characters to project reports, how we frame and explain our work is an iterative process at Reboot. Our communications team has always wished that we could bottle the nuanced wisdom from our founders. Thankfully, someone finally did that for us. Stephen Ladek, founder of International Solutions Group, interviewed Panthea Lee for his Terms of Reference podcast last fall.

Over 30 minutes, their conversation unpacks how we work towards our big founding vision. Some highlights:

  • Panthea’s “aha moment” that took her from frustrated development practitioner to founder of Reboot.

  • “Infiltrate sounds like the wrong term”: The ups and downs of being an “entryist”—working inside and with organizations to radically change the way they do things.

  • Guidelines for how we choose our projects to match our theory of change, and exciting new ideas we’re experimenting with for the future.

If you’re looking for a bit of inspiration and know-how on working to change the way governments and major development institutions approach their work, listen here.

Congratulations to Stephen on the 100th episode of Terms of Reference! We’re looking forward to following the podcast’s new focus on thought leaders at the forefront of innovation in development and humanitarian aid.


Careers in Social Impact

On Wednesday, April 6th, Laura Freschi will share her experience as a social impact professional with students at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. SIPA students can meet Laura and learn more about Reboot from 6–8 pm at the Social Impact Career Panel.

Bringing User Experience to Government

On Friday April 8th, Panthea Lee will join the U.S. Department of State for UX exponential, their first workshop on user-experience design. As part of a panel of design experts, Panthea will share how the State Department can employ user-centered design to improve internal strategy work.

Design Diary: Cover Concepts for the 2016 World Development Report

A lot of work goes into designing the cover for any publication, and no less for a report as complex and widely-discussed in our sector as the World Bank’s World Development Report.

Every year, a new team of economists and scholars from the World Bank comes together to write the World Development Report, a several hundred-page report on a theme in global economic development. Reboot was proud to serve as design partner for this year’s report, “Digital Dividends.” We worked closely with the Bank’s editorial team to set the report’s visual style through its graphs, cover, and a set of infographics.

For Reboot, creating the cover for the report wasn’t just about creating a beautiful end product (although we are happy to say that was one result). Following many months of designing graphs, chapter dividers, and a style guide, the cover was the visual capstone. Its design needed to speak to all of the important themes of the report, and the journey to the final cover took us in many different directions. In this post we’ll share some of the cover designs we came up with, and discuss how we reached the final version.

Here’s one early idea that the editorial team really liked from the start:


It’s a visual representation of the report’s metaphor of the internet as a 21st century machine running on 19th century tracks. Outdated policies and regulations aren’t adequately supporting the new digital frontier. This design suggests a parallel between internet advancement and its underlying institutional infrastructure. While this design is a clever, snappy way of showing that concept, it falls short in that it represents only one idea from the far-reaching report. We needed something that meant more.

That brought us to the “circuitree”:


In this illustration, the branches and leaves of the tree form a pattern resembling circuits, representing the world’s rapidly growing digital infrastructure. The roots allude to the institutional practices and policies that support advancements in digital development. We experimented with several versions of this illustration, some of which emphasized one of the report’s key cautionary messages: that the analog foundations (roots) of digital development are too small, and not growing fast enough to keep pace with advancing digital technologies. This cover’s metaphor certainly captured more of the report’s most important themes. However, it presumed that readers had at least a moderate level of understanding of the themes, which would be necessary to make the connection.

As we searched for a new solution, we wanted to stretch our concept of what a cover could be. In years past we’d seen covers of the World Development Report include photographs, illustrations, and maps, but we hadn’t seen a cover that told a specific story. Enter, the infographic cover:


For these two concepts, we started with a dataset comparing internet adoption to more traditional development indicators—access to clean water and, sanitation—and tried to represent that data in a way that was compelling and informative. The results were interesting, and it certainly challenged the traditional use of a cover, but its character separated it too far from covers past.

Throughout our various explorations, we aimed for a balance between accessibility and thoroughness. The “wi-fi train” made a good icon, but didn’t go far beyond that. The circuitree brought complexity to the metaphor, but only if you knew what to look for. The infographic was informative and independent, but misaligned.

Finally, we reached a solution:


The World Bank team had been particularly drawn to this photograph throughout the process. Taken by John Stanmeyer, it shows migrants in Djibouti straining to access mobile signal from Somalia. In addition to being a beautiful image, this scene captured a story that reflects an important idea of the report: Despite 20 years of civil war, Somalia’s mobile sector experiences fierce competition, ensuring better mobile access than Djibouti, and many of its other, richer neighbors. Thus, the photo strikes the right balance. It’s both accessible, conveying themes about mobile technology to uninformed readers, and thorough, evoking the complex market and political factors that impact digital access explored in the report.

The process of designing a cover is not often short. But while we went through multiple versions, we had many opportunities to experiment along the way. And we landed in a place that yielded new opportunities: We were able to take the cover a step further with an infographic explaining the story behind it.

Convening on Human Rights in a Digital Future

From March 30th to April 1st, Panthea Lee and Zack Brisson will join RightsCon, the world’s leading summit on human rights and the future of internet, in Silicon Valley. On Friday, Zack will present on using digital tools for analog rights at 12 pm, and Panthea will lead a hub table on media development and citizen engagement at 4 pm. Follow the event on Twitter with #RightsCon.

Building Strategies for Ethical Data Collection

Zack Brisson will attend the Responsible Data Forum on Human Rights Documentation on March 29th in San Francisco. This collaborative discussion on the ethical, privacy and security challenges of data advocacy will expand resources and tools for a benign use of technology to the document human rights, based on the 2015 forum with frontline activists.

Spreading Service Design in Nigeria

Adam Talsma is in Lagos this week supporting a team of forward-thinking service design practitioners at Areedi and PolicyLab to soft launch the Nigerian chapter of the global Service Design Network. SDN Lagos’ first event will engage business owners in how service design principles and methods are being applied in Nigeria. Follow along on Twitter with #sdnbreakfast.


NYC Transparency Platform Launches

We congratulate the Mayor’s Office of New York on the launch of the new beta transparency platform, OpenRecords. Building on Mayor De Blasio’s commitment to transparency, the platform makes it easier for the public and city agencies to request, track, and manage freedom of information requests. Reboot was proud to support the city in the platform’s design and implementation.


A Beginner’s Guide to More Meaningful Infographics

I love infographics. They are valuable tools in both the public and private sector. But often, through my internet wanderings, I come across an infographic that seems a little off. Instead of helping me consume data in a meaningful way, it leaves me feeling confused.

Generally, these misfires happen when a pile of icons and numbers is mistaken for an “infographic.” A recent Guardian post marketed to the Global Development Professionals Network, for example, promised to be a Beginner’s Guide to Data Visualization. The author describes an infographic as “traditionally static, a colorful page layout bursting with icons and statistics,” and recommends some drag-and-drop tools that are simple to use, allowing any organization to create visualizations with their own data. But, contrary to this article, infographics are more than flashy “bursting” visuals and certainly cannot be created with one-size-fits-all templates.

Infographics should help us understand data—something which does not happen by plopping data points next to icons or inside objects that become abnormally shaped bar charts. I urge the development sector to leave “beginner’s guides” behind, and move toward a more meaningful infographic.

Well-designed infographics help viewers enter data in a way that a spreadsheet or research report simply cannot. They use visual patterns and organize content to enhance human cognition. Sure, they can (and should) be attractive and inviting, but successful infographics also enable a viewer to remember data by intertwining it into intentionally chosen visuals and simplifying its complexity.

Over the last couple of months, I have become fascinated with how the international development sector makes and shares these visual tools. Mostly, I have been influenced by Reboot’s recent collaboration with the World Bank on the visual identity of the 2016 World Development Report. Through this partnership, we created a series of promotional infographics to be released in tandem with the final report—helping the World Bank’s complex technical findings become more compelling and memorable.

A Rule of Thumb for Meaningful Infographics

Here’s an easy trick to avoid the meaningless infographic trap: the next time you look at an infographic, remove all the visuals—the icons, illustrations, or diagrams. If it still reads the same, then that designer has not used the full power of these visual tools.

More than just making things flashy, visuals help people navigate complex information and process even the easiest concepts faster. Take, for example, two different ways to understand a shape. While text is processed sequentially, images are processed simultaneously:


See what I mean? “Pictures are powerful,” states Dan Roam, author of The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures:

Processing images activates more corners of our minds than words alone, we have a greater tendency to believe what we see—and the images we create are far stickier than things we have to read.

Distilling Data into a Narrative

So now that you know how to recognize a bad infographic, how do you go about making a good one? The first step is to consider your purpose and your intended audience.

Different infographics serve different purposes. Some are highly technical, showing complex processes to experienced audiences, while others break down data into a narrative. Though these categories are not mutually exclusive, understanding the differences between the two helps organizations choose the appropriate format.

While working with the World Bank, we found ourselves at this crossroads, deciding between a technical or narrative infographic. So, like all of our projects, we began by asking a lot of questions, including:

  • What audiences will benefit most from an infographic?
  • What level of understanding do they have on this topic?
  • How can we convey the best story?

While the World Development Report (WDR) contains enough data to create a series of highly complex visualizations similar to Mike Faille’s exploration of the U.S. border crisis, we decided our intent was to help the average reader distill the themes, trends, and issues of the internet and development.

By asking these questions to ourselves and the World Bank, we saw that these infographics would play an important role in disseminating the ideas of the WDR beyond the academics and wonks—to readers who may not pick up the report and read it cover to cover.


Clearly defining our audience allowed us to craft a cohesive narrative that illustrates the report’s main themes. For example, this pie chart emphasizes the size and scope of the digital inequality discussed in the report.

Purpose-Driven Images

Guided by our target audience, we began to explore other ways to communicate the WDR’s key concepts. Rather than just plopping icons next to data, we intentionally created visuals to enhance our users’ experience and understanding of the problem.

For example, understanding the physical and technological infrastructure of internet connectivity is important to understanding the report’s policy recommendations. The idea of “connectivity” felt fuzzy to us, but the nuance was too complex to explain quickly. Within the publication, the World Bank had the attention and word count to explain the integral connections that make up this idea. We knew that our infographic—as internet content—would not have that luxury.

As visual thinkers, we saw this challenge as an opportunity. Using the WDR’s Policy Matrix, we created an illustration that references its main points, but also “paints a picture” that viewers can understand with ease:


What makes this illustration successful is the intentional reciprocity between the written content and each visual element. The visuals are not necessarily what you notice first. But if you apply the Infographic Rule of Thumb and remove all of the visuals from this post, you end up with a list of different kinds of technologies; and then we’re back to the WDR’s Policy Matrix—it’s difficult to parse.

With the illustrations, you get a complete picture of what happens at each “mile” of connectivity. Take the section: “First Mile: Where the Internet Enters a Country.” This phrase is essentially meaningless without the familiar coastline and buoys (which play a role in laying the fiber optic cable necessary for internet to enter a country). It’s not about the picture of the coastline or the city, but about picturing the web of connectivity as a whole as it moves through each “mile.”

As organizations become equipped to collect more and more data, infographics will be an even more crucial tool to bring readers into statistical information easily. It is time for the development sector to think more holistically about this important form of visual communication. So the next time your organization decides to create an infographic, take a step back and think critically. It’s not just a pretty picture—it’s a thousand words.



See more infographics, and download the full 2016 World Development Report here.

Welcome Beatrice Nordling!

Joining Reboot as our new programs and communications intern, Beatrice is a soon-to-be economics graduate from NYU, with a background in research and communications. She will assist in shaping Reboot’s communications and projects, and is excited to apply her heterodox economics perspective to our integrative design approach.


Careers in Public Service

On Thursday, March 3rd, Nina Kiernan and Patrick Ainslie will represent Reboot at the NYU Wagner Public Service Career Expo. Open to students and alumni from NYU Wagner and its consortium schools, the expo will be held at the NYU Kimmel Center from 3 to 6 pm.

“Terms of Reference” Podcast Interviews Panthea Lee

Panthea Lee joins the Aidpreneur Terms of Reference podcast for a wide-ranging discussion. Tune into the recording to learn more about Reboot’s founding, her background, challenges in development, and insights gained from Reboot’s work, among other things.

Harnessing the Internet of Things

On January 29th in Washington DC, Zack Brisson will lead a discussion on the implications of the Internet of Things for civil society. Hosted by USAID, FHI360, and Cisco, the event will draw upon their recent report and explore ways to spread the benefits of sensors and connectivity technologies in developing countries. Follow along with #IoT4Dev.

Innovating in Government

Nicole Anand will discuss the role of innovation in government in Berlin, Germany on January 21st. Hosted by stiftung neue verantwortung and the World Wide Web Foundation, panelists and participants will look at challenges, methods, and technologies in public sector innovation. RSVP to attend here.