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How do you get the graphic above from the Excel data below?

Start with a Story

A figure like 6 trillion dollars sounds big. You can put that in an article, and it stands out.

Anything in the trillions is an enormous amount of money being spent. I don’t have any context around a trillion dollars because I don’t work for the federal government.

Governments and a few companies are the only organizations that can venture to talk in trillions–and we are talking valuations, not real revenue or costs for companies.

So, it seems like a good reason to break $6T down to something we can all understand.

Getting Graphic

I was asked to pull together some data for an article on cybercrime recently. That is not really my jam, but I was obliged to offer support–putting my data science degree and design skills to work for my wife.

You may know Robert Herjavec from the Shark Tark. That is where I know him. He seems like a guy I could go on a long run with or have a drink with from the show.

Robert made his millions in digital security.

His Herjavec Group puts out an annual report on Cybercrime. If you are curious, it is a fascinating view into the growing costs and impact of cybercrime on the public and private sector for which we are all very much contributors to society here in the United States. This is scary stuff we need to address now not later.

Cybercriminals are ramping up their threats to us personally and to large public organizations.

Who was not impacted by the Equifax breach from last September? About everyone I know found their name on the list.

So, Herjavec Group projects the $3T we are spending globally to fight cybercrime is going to double to $6T in the next few years.

It is time to assemble our main characters for a graphic that will capture our reader’s attention a little more than just the dollar amount.

Our Three Main Characters

Every story you tell with data needs characters. I have three in this data-story.

  • Cybercriminals
  • Global Spending of $6 trillion
  • Time

I now need to cast the parts for my three characters. Since this is a simple graphic for a what is going to be a blog post on a site, I can’t invest a lot of time in the development of my digital assets to tell my story.

I use a stock photography and vector graphic service called StockUlimited out of Chicago that I got through AppSumo. Both of which I am an affiliate–which simply means I buy their products and I also recommend them to others. They do offer incentives that I turnaround and pour back into my site which you are enjoying today. Good times!

Obvious Question

Why don’t I design the graphics myself you ask?

Great question. Economics.

As you will see in the graphic, the hacker for this graphic has a lot of detail. I’d estimate from my lifetime of experience that the shading and detail in the laptop would take me about an hour or more to do a good job. The “hacker” would take me a couple of hours. Each of the units would require an hour or more of my time–and the Mercator map projection is not an easy task either even if it was just a mask and shading job.

I simply can afford to invest half a day on a graphic for a daily blog article that I would not have a return on, and either should you.

Design work has been commoditized by sites like Fiverr, 99Designs, etc. More designers are giving limited distribution rights on sites like StockUlimited in exchange for small payouts for use in presentations and blogs.

If I wanted to make a T-shirt to sell on Amazon, I would have to purchase an extended license for everything that I use. Since I’m not creating this for commercial use, I am well within the license to create the graphic for my client to use.

As you will see below–I still have design work to do during the assembly. The time fits the cybercrime…article.

If there were not something in one of my go-to-resources that I could not find that I wanted, I would be using my Adobe Creative Cloud applications to create what I need.

You may not find something that is perfect, but you can add or subtract during the construction of your master graphic. Some assembly IS required.

Example, in this case, was with the time graphics. I wanted something for “week,” but chose to create it rather than looking for a creative file that had it all.

Here are the assets I will be using in this assembly.

Cybercriminal Character – I’ll use a hacker EPS file from the collection

Global Spending of $6 trillion – I’ll use a Mercator map projection for the global image

Time – I looked for something that could convey seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months

Now it is time to open up Adobe Illustrator for EPS files. I cut my teeth on Macromedia Fireworks before it was acquired by Adobe. I used Fireworks for their raster graphics design up until the very end to create many PNG files for the web. I’m using Illustrator, but I’m a few years behind where I would like my skills to be with the design platform.

Start with a Big Number and Blank Page

I know that some people get overwhelmed by a blank page. I usually have a vision of what I want to do.

In the case of this graphic, I knew the characters that I wanted to use and a rough idea of how to put them together. So, it was not daunting when I typed in that $6T figure on the blank page.

Always Be Asking

What’s my story? Who is my audience? How do I want them to feel? What should they see?

All those types of questions are swimming in my head. So, I just start painting on the canvas the layers that will build-out the final story.

The great thing about vector graphics and Adobe Illustrator is that you can scale up and down the size of your graphics without image loss. That is important–unless you are going for the Minecraft pixeled look with your images. You can recreate that look with vector graphics too naturally.


I know that the changes in scale for things like the font are subtle, but I did it anyway–it is the little things. You still have to make sure the person viewing your graphic can read the numbers. This was a good start.

I then wanted to add in a circle going clockwise with an arrow to illustrate how each year the process begins again. Yes, I’m artist so-to-speak, so I think about these types of things when I am putting it together.

I already wanted to use dark colors and reds, so finding a hacker that was not dressed like a ninja was “win!” in my book.

On a slight tangent: Why do we depict in the media all hackers with hoodies and baggie pants or dressed like a ninja? What I know about hackers, they are not what is portrayed in the movies, and they don’t go around wearing hoodies. Please read Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick. Graphic tees maybe, but not hoodies and baggie pants.

Okay. Back to the build up.

Originally the hacker was sitting facing north. I added the Mercator map I need and changed the opacity from 100% down to 60%. I rotated the hacker based on the map to the east because our friends in the east have armies of hackers trying to influence things like US elections, right? While I am not certain that it is true because I have not researched it extensively, it made for a good effect on the graphic.

Finally, I added some shading and a vignette to the image to give it the final effect.

All done, it was less than an hour of work, but it was worth it.

What do you think?

Do it Yourself or Done for You

Is this something that you could put together if you needed to do it for an article or presentation?

This type of effort takes something that is boring and bland and makes it unique and interesting. I know because I am a consumer of presentations and read blogs and articles like you. I wish more people put in the effort to make their data standout and tell a story.

Some people would rather have someone else do it for them. I can certainly help do it for you. Contact me if you want to get started on a project.

I hope you enjoyed the brief case-study that I put together for you.

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Your feedback and participation in the community are valued.

Thank you!

Brian Stout

About the Author: Brian has never stopped playing with crayons and folding scraps of paper since was a kid. He is known to scribble and doodle out pictures during meetings–especially if they are boring. Make your information stand out. Brian is also an entrepreneur who likes to write blogs, articles, and books. The Pedigree: Brian has an undergraduate degree in Psychology, an MBA in Marketing & Finance, and is working on Masters in Data Science with a concentration in Data Visualization. Brian also works for a non-profit in Indianapolis to help improve the health in healthcare using software and services and provide healthcare insurance for his family. 🙂