To say that 2021 has been eventful would be an understatement. The same is true for The Ken. We launched our first audio journalism product this year, and by the time the first ten episodes of “Unofficial sources” were aired, it had reached a milestone of 100,000 downloads.

In October, as we turned five, we took another leap. We launched seven newsletters, including in sectors where we had never ventured before, like sports or cryptocurrency.

Around the same time, we also took our first step towards pushing the boundaries of visual journalism by launching Visual Stories, a space at The Ken where subscribers could consume nothing but charts. All the charts The Ken has produced in one place for you to peruse, for hours on end.

Why?

Because business journalism may survive without words, but not without charts and data.

Proving this point—telling stories more visually and less verbally—has been a challenge that the editorial design team has taken upon themselves year after year.

Here is a personal account of every designer, in their own words, on infographics that challenged them or just tickled their creative impulses over the past year.

Adhithi talks about the “Swiggy of surgeries”

When I began working with Maitri Porecha on her story about Pristyn, the elective surgery care provider, I was only a few weeks into my job at The Ken. I was—and am— still learning the ropes, and I posed multiple questions about Pristyn’s unique model of consumer acquisition. With Maitri’s help, I found that the best way to represent this information was a comic strip format, detailing the steps that the startup takes to “score patients”. Creating an eight-panel illustration instead of a flowchart or timeline meant that we could visualise Pristyn’s process in more detail, while also keeping it engaging. You can read this story from December 2021 here here The Ken Sequoia hitches Practo’s slowing cart to Pristyn’s runaway growth train Read more .

Aishwarya on working with memes and more

I joined The Ken as an editorial designer in mid-February. Lucky for me, almost a month into my new job, Nadine and Yunindita pitched an exciting story about startup culture memes in Indonesia startup culture memes in Indonesia The Ken Work hard, meme harder: How Indonesians are coping with startup hustle culture Read more . Anonymous accounts on social media were using memes to shed light on some of the common issues tech startup employees face. Issues of a rather serious nature—such as burnout, layoffs, and long working hours—took the form of humour in viral meme formats. The virality often led to responses from companies, thereby forcing them to acknowledge these issues if not change their practices. 

In this chart, we followed the story of one such viral moment. With the help of screenshots collected by Yunindita, I pieced together the narrative in six frames. I was also insistent that a story on memes should be told through meme-charts. Everybody was instantly onboard with this idea. And so, a faded version of memes complemented the sentiment, while the focus remained on the screenshots.

Although we deal with many numbers and business processes on the daily, stories such as the one above have us focusing the visual on people and their experiences. Another people-centric story came from Ka Kay, on how startups in Southeast Asia draw from the alumni network of Grab the alumni network of Grab The Ken From Silicon Valley to S’pore: the ‘Grab Mafia’ is forging its future in SEA Read more . The old adage goes ‘it’s nice to put a name to the face’; given how popular the chart in this story got, I’d say the reverse holds true as well. 

Aside from there being ten faces to illustrate, this chart was challenging because we wanted to show three data points for each—their position at Grab, their current startup, and the funding raised. In text-heavy charts, our general approach is to cut down on any unnecessary information. However, every data point here was important to the story, and it all came down to the layout to balance the visual with text. Thankfully, a simple flowchart did the trick. 

Speaking of text-heavy charts, Ruhi’s story on the allied healthcare workforce, threw up an interesting challenge—how do we show as many non-clinical professions as possible so we can attempt to convey the scale of an industry such as this. I had to fight all my instincts to cut down on text here and show as much as possible. With Ruhi’s help, we identified 51 out of 77 professions, and laid them out in a network chart. The scale and magnitude of the industry and India’s corresponding shortage in the wake of Covid’s second wave remains as important today as it was six months ago. You can read it here here The Ken Covid’s second wave exposes the million-plus hole in India’s healthcare workforce Read more .

Sharath on animal analogies and topical visuals

Show, don’t tell.

A picture paints a thousand words.

Seeing is believing.

You may have heard at least one of these sayings in your lifetime. Probably too often. They’re cliches to a fault. 

But cliches arise when something is deeply ingrained in everyone’s consciousness. In this case, that something is the fact that a picture is arguably the most concise form of communication. 

It needs a whole lot less from you than reading a small paragraph of words. An image does not need to be bound by language, or any one person’s understanding of the world.

In my nearly-two years working on editorial design at The Ken, that’s been the guiding principle of sorts when making an infographic. Far from it being the clerical drudgery of turning numbers into bars and circles, my background in illustration and filmmaking led me to a different approach in making these graphs:

How do you get someone to instantly understand what your chart is about, without them having to read it?

This brings us first to the chart I made for Pratap Vikram Singh’s January story January story The Ken It’s Telecom vs Space as India once again opens up space to private players Read more on yet another instance of the Indian government’s tenuous relationship with private telco players… in space.

Given the outlandish setting of the story, I was immediately driven towards lending a topical theme to the chart. The idea being to impress on a reader that above all things, this is a picture about space. And since everyone—including you, dear reader—loves space, why not take a quick look?

This approach was particularly noticeable in Seetharaman’s April writeup April writeup The Ken Reliance’s unrelenting quest to become a sporting giant Read more  about Reliance Industries’ deep foray into the sports industry. 

It could have been just plain old circles, yet another volume chart. But this way, even without reading a word, nearly anyone can instantly grasp that the above chart is about sports. The sense of scale is there, the usual precise numbers, too. But it’s a visual medium! So now, there’s topicality, too.

I’ll end this with one that goes slightly off the rails to represent something rather simple. Honchos in the industry really love their animal references—unicorns, zebras, camels, and… octopuses. How else do you describe Amazon, a company whose fingers have more fingers, each in several pies?

Seetha’s February piece February piece The Ken The Amazon-Flipkart battle was over. Then came the war Read more  elaborates on the same, outlining just how far Amazon wants to—and needs to—go to one-up rival Flipkart. Not much of a point to be made here, besides that a chart needn’t be just lines, bars, and arrows. No one wants to be bored, least of all the person churning out graphics like these on the daily. 

Right?

Prajakta on painting numbers and labyrinths

April 2021 began with the second covid wave crashing down upon India. By the end of the month, the death toll had crossed 200,000; India’s demand for oxygen had gone up to 8,000 tonnes per day (TPD), while our production capacity was limited to 7,200 TPD.

Access to liquid medical oxygen (LMO) was not just affected by a shortage of supplies. There were many logistical hurdles along the way. Chhattisgarh, a state with surplus oxygen, had only two leak-proof tankers to transport it. A tanker can carry only upto 14-18 metric tonnes of LMO, which added to these woes.

In order to fully grasp the situation, one needs to understand how oxygen is produced and delivered to local hospitals. 

After spending over nine years (three of which have been at the Ken) in business journalism, making infographics day in and day out, few things challenge or excite you. But when Maitri Porecha took it upon herself to visit an oxygen plant and get us exclusive images that would help our subscribers understand how oxygen gets delivered to your doorstep, there was bound to be an uptick in my dopamine levels.

Although the chart above is not very different from our regular flow charts, the images elevate the value of the infographic, and make it easier for the reader to visualise and understand the process. It’s a literal “show and tell”. You can read the story here here The Ken No room to breathe: India’s oxygen scarcity isn’t just about production Read more .

While the country was dealing with the Covid crisis, India Inc. was preparing for another surge. A surge in the number of companies listing on the bourses. Sixty-two companies had their initial public offerings (IPO) this year, while the number stood at 14 in 2020.

Zomato was among the most eagerly awaited IPOs of 2021. It gained 65.59% over the issue price on the day of listing. Currently, it is trading at about 80% over the issue price. 

When Zomato filed its draft red herring prospectus (DRHP) in late April 2021, many media houses, The Ken included, published an analysis piece an analysis piece The Ken The non-obvious takeaways from Zomato’s IPO prospectus Read more . This story by Sumanth Raghavendra one of our most-read stories in May 2021.

One of the charts from the piece is a neat example of what waterfall charts should convey.

In my experience, a waterfall chart that is self-explanatory and tells the story without further ado is a rarity.

The following chart explains how Zomato’s contribution margin turned positive in the first nine months of FY21. One can see how the revenue components, like customer delivery charges, went up while cost components fell, leading to a positive result for Zomato.

In more positive news, influencer-driven marketing may just be the next big thing in the marketing industry. You can read all about it in Bhumika and Aishwarya's story Bhumika and Aishwarya's story The Ken Leveraging likes for a living: Inside India’s Rs 900 crore influencer economy Read more .

As influencer-driven marketing in India is growing—it is a Rs 900 crore market as of the end of 2021, according to GroupM GroupM GroupM INFLUENCER MARKETING WILL BE INR 900 CR MARKET IN INDIA BY THE END OF 2021 Read more —relationships between brands and influencers are getting more complex and more organised. Imagine you are a brand. Now, spot the four ways of connecting with the right influencer to market your product. 

This approach is what we had in our minds while visualising the infographic. Although, the original idea was to make a complex labyrinth that justified the complexity of the relationship between two entities. What we eventually ended up making was a more simplified infographic because simplicity trumps beauty.

Do you agree?

Whether you do or don’t, we would love to hear your thoughts. Do write to [email protected] or [email protected] and let us know what your favourite infographics from 2021 are. You can view them on our Visual Stories page.