Not to start with TMI right off the bat when we have posted on these pages for the past few months, but we’ve had some big work + life changes of late. Resulting in the fact that I’m currently writing this from a desk in central Virginia, where we’re both originally from and where it’s currently feeling extremely autumnal. Maybe part of it’s having spent the last seven years in Los Angeles, but the general scene here has us vibing hard on fall. Leaves changing color, the crisp feel to the air, rainy days—it’s all got us feeling cozy and craving comforting foods.

Which led us to make a house regular for our toddler, Nico, but something we as adult don’t enjoy nearly often enough—pancakes. Or flapjacks or griddlecakes if you’re feeling particularly lumberjack-y. Our go-to recipe has long been from friend and über-vegan cookbook author, Isa Chandra Moskawitz, and her classic, Vegan Brunch, which you should buy (and/or, get her new book, I Can Cook Vegan).

We reached out this weekend to see if it’d be cool for us to post that recipe for Perfect Pancakes here and she said it was, so here it is (and thanks, Isa):

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/3 cup water
1 to 1 1/4 cups plant-based milk (soy, almond, oat, et cetera)
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

So, not to dishonor the greatness of our friend Isa, but, as with many recipes, we do fool around with this one a bit usually, not that you have to. Ingredients and instructions are being shared as originally printed here, but we usually use fresh-ground cinnamon from a stick, because we really dig it. And we usually use that La Tourangelle Sun Coco Oil Blend because we also dig it. Then we usually opt out of the water, using all plant milk instead just to have them come out a little more richly (so, 1 1/3 – 1 7/12 [yes, I had to look that math up] plant milk). And sometimes we make them gluten-free or gluten-less by subbing half or all of the wheat flour with almond or rice or a combination thereof. But that’s it—no more messing around; this recipe really is pretty awesome, simple, and fool-proof.

So here’s how it reads in Isa’s book Vegan Brunch (and I think in Vegan with a Vengeance too, where it originally appeared).

Preheat a large skillet over medium heat for at least 2 minutes (and up to 5 minutes).

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Make a well in the center and add the oil, water, milk, maple syrup, and vanilla. Mix just until ingredients are combined. A few lumps in the batter are just fine.

Spray the pan with a light coat of cooking spray (or a very light coat of oil). Pour pancakes one at a time and cook until bubbles form and the top looks somewhat dry (about 3 minutes). Flip over and cook for another minute. Serve!

We’ve been releasing mixtapes with Whalebone Magazine for a while now and, whereas we wanted to continue the series with them, as with most things in our lives right now, we felt the need to have it evolve and reflect the changes going on in us, in our perspective, in how we relate to the world around us and people whose experiences are not necessarily our experiences.

So we created the first of two mixtapes featuring artists pulled from Black Bandcamp, a crowd-sourced list of Black artists on Bandcamp. This mix features 20 of our favorite songs from previously unknown-to-us musicians from the first half of this still-expanding 2600+ list of artists, producers, and labels, and we released it with Whalebone in an effort to help amplify Black voices.

Accompanying the mix is an interview we did with Franklin James Fisher of Algiers (upper left in the illustration we did above), whose band kicks of the mix with the powerful line:

“Run around, run away from your America
While it burns in the streets.”

 

You can listen to the mix and read the interview over at whalebonemag.com. And stay tuned for part two soon.

Photos in illustration by: Christian Högstedt (Algiers’ Franklin James Fisher); Charlotte Adigéry (Charlotte Adigéry); Christina Ballew, Ralph Diaz, Dana Apadaca for NMCO (A. Billi Free); Baba Ali + 79rs Gang unknown

This past week, one of our all-time favorite Los Angeles restaurants, Burgerlords, made the move to go fully vegan.

The Chinatown burger stand and more recently opened Highland Park diner have always been ultra-vegan-friendly—with fully vegan from-scratch burger patties, tofu nuggets, and vegan-by-default tahini-based milkshakes—but, as longtime vegans and animal rights activists, we’re obviously thrilled with this decision. And, seemingly, the rest of LA is too—both locations entirely sold out of food this weekend, necessitating shut-downs Sunday as they prep for a Thursday reopening.

We’ve done a longer form interview here with Frederick Guerrero—one of two brothers and owners of Burgerlords. But this time, we just had one question: What precipitated the move to an all-vegan menu? Fred, pictured below, happily obliged us with an answer.

“I’ve been vegetarian since I was about 8 years old.  Growing up working in my family’s restaurant, I always wanted to have my own place that represented how I ate.  We’ve gone back and forth with the idea of going all vegan with the restaurants, so we figured that now was as good of a time as any to make the leap.  Sure, there are other factors related to COVID, but it was ultimately about having a business that I felt in control of and fully taking ownership of the restaurants.”

To this, we say—rad.

Full vegan menu below (click for a larger view). Both the Chinatown + Highland Park locations are now open for delivery + pick-up Thursday – Sunday, 12-8PM—order online via burgerlords.com.

You can read our 2016 interview with Fred if you like.

Top image, 2018 nugs + baby photo, and bottom image by us; all other photos by ASATO iiDA.


Whalebone Magazine published our most recent mixtape of new sounds in the future pop realm along with a conversation about these weird times. You listen below and read + listen along over at Whalebone Mag too.

Socially distant + stay-home-friendly video for Austra‘s track below for added bonus.

Stay safe, friends.

Illustration by us. Photos: Jamie Sinclair (Westerman), Virginie Khateeb (Austra), Rebecca Scheinberg (Denai Moore), Ela Minus (Ela Minus), Nathan Bajar (Cautious Clay), Ruaraid Archilleos-Sarll (Låpsley), Christopher Honeywell (Braids).

I’ve think we’ve talked about this here before, but we made a really, really big mistake post-college when we moved to New York City—we stopped being vegan. We were still vegetarians, we just started giving in to the early-aughts temptation of super-fancy cheese for a bit. This era of our lives was short-lived (we started to do more design + marketing work for animal rights orgs. and couldn’t keep ignoring the inherent violence + tragedy in the dairy industry), but it did bring into our lives some pretty amazing tastes that we then turned our backs on. One that we missed especially was that of gorgonzola—that intense, blue-and-green-veined cheese that brought together a rich butteriness with a tangy umami.

But a few months back, on a trip to our neighborhood vegan grocer, Besties, a new vegan blue cheese was recommended to us—Coco Blue, a vegan cheese that’s made right here in Los Angeles by Katona’s Creamery, who uses the same aging process as their dairy-based blue cheese counterparts. As fate would have it, Elizabeth Katona had just debuted the cheese at Bestie’s earlier that day. We took it home and tried it with crackers and were immediately brought back to those heady, dairy-eating days in our early twenties—it was dead-on and we’ve never had anything in our roughly one million years of being vegan that even comes close to this level of blue cheese authenticity. That first batch of Coco Blue quickly sold out and we’ve been champing at the bit for more ever since.

Until last week, when Elizabeth kindly delivered another batch to our doorstep (which she’s now doing in select areas with the city-wide COVID shut-downs). First order of business, try the new batch to see if it holds up (it did). Second order, make the blue cheese walnut risotto we made on the regular in Brooklyn, minus the dairy. We promptly did and it came out wonderfully, so we thought we’d share the recipe here. Bonus—if there are any left-overs, you can make arancini.

Coco Blue Risotto
◊ 1 cup risotto rice
◊ 4 ounces Katona’s Creamery Coco Blue vegan cheese
◊ 2 small/1 medium shallots, peeled + diced
◊ 4 tablespoons/2 ounces vegan butter (we like Miyoko’s)
◊ 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
◊ 1 cup dry white wine (optional; if the percentage of alcohol is below 12, it’s likely too sweet/not dry enough)
◊ 1/2 cup walnut halves, lightly crushed by hand
◊ sea salt (to taste)
◊ a little of your favorite pretty green herb, mainly for show

So let’s start with the bad news—if you’re not in the Los Angeles area, sadly, you’re likely not going to be able to get this cheese. Amazing as it is (and it really, really is amazing), it’s really new to the market, made in very small batches, and not widely distributed right now. If you are in the Los Angeles area, we do highly recommend trying to get some. You can check with Bestie’s or message Elizabeth via Instagram to see if she can deliver in your area.

Some other options—depending on where you live, there may be some other local purveyors of vegan cheese who make a blue (we know our friends at NYC’s Orchard Grocer sell one by Cheezehound, out of the Catskills). And there are some recipes online for a homemade vegan blue cheese, none of which we’ve ever tried. Or, if you’re just looking to make a simple risotto and want to use this recipe as a template, you can do that too and skip the vegan cheese altogether. As someone told us years ago, the thing that makes good risotto creamy isn’t dairy, it’s the constant stirring and agitating of the rice grains that shed their outer starch over time as they’re cooked. So if you do that, maybe think about sautéing some chopped garlic in the butter + oil up front to add some flavor. Or use the more tame risotto as a base for some additional, more flavorful toppers, like spicy Italian vegan sausage.

Regardless, start by adding your risotto to 4 cups of filtered water in a large bowl. Some like to use broth here, which we’re usually all for, but we like a very clean, light-in-color risotto that’ll let the other flavors shine. Using a stock is going to give you a less subtle taste and more color than we care for in a risotto like this. Agitate the rice with fingers or a fork or whisk to release the starch into the water. Do this for a few minutes, until the water starts to become milky. Drain through a sieve over a bowl or other container, reserving the resulting liquid (we’ll add this later to give the dish a nice, thick fluffiness).

Now, setting aside 1 tablespoon/half an ounce of the vegan butter, melt the remainder in a skillet over low heat, mixing in the olive oil. Note: We usually use a cast iron for more everything; this is an exception, for the same reason we don’t use broth—this recipe’s shooting for that aforementioned tasty-but-clean base. If you don’t have or don’t want to use vegan butter, though, just supplement with the appropriate amount of olive oil (so, 5 or so tablespoon total). Now add the shallot and raise the heat to medium, allowing the shallot to caramelize and begin to become fragrant, but not overly browned (five or so minutes).

Carefully add your drained rice, continuously stirring and allowing it to sauté and brown a bit in the butter-oil-shallot mixture, which should smell pretty nice right about now. Carefully add the cup of white wine, continuously stirring (you’re basically stirring this whole time). If you don’t want to use wine, do this with additional filtered water instead or, if you want a little of the acidity that the wine gives the finished dish, add a little rice vinegar to your water.

From here on out, the name of the game is add liquid, cook it off (uncovered), repeat, always gently, thoroughly stirring and making sure the risotto isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the wine’s gone, move on to the starchy water. Once that all cooks off, give the risotto a taste—it should, at this point, be fluffy and the cores of the grains of rice shouldn’t retain any residual hardness. If it’s not fluffy and entirely soft, add more filtered water 1/2-1 cup at a time and continue to cook off, salting to taste as you go.

While the risotto’s getting to a good consistency, in a second skillet (this one can totally be cast iron), melt the remaining one tablespoon of vegan butter (or heat equivalent olive oil) over medium-low heat and then add your crushed walnut pieces, stirring until browned evenly (this should just take a few minutes). Set aside away from heat.

Once the risotto is nice and fluffy and has a good mouthfeel and taste, add all but an ounce or so of the Coco Blue, chopping into pieces and stirring to incorporate into the risotto. It should give off a nice, blue cheese fragrance at this point. Plate and top with your browned walnut pieces, the remaining blue cheese, crumbled, and a little chopped rosemary, sage, or the like. Serve immediately and enjoy.

If you have any leftovers, why not make arancini from the refrigerated rice?

All you need to do is heat an inch or so of high heat cooking oil over high heat, roll the cold rice into balls about two inches in diameter, and then roll those in a bowl of rice flour, wheat flour, or really, any kind of flour with a little salt and maybe a little nutritional yeast (only if you have it). Then carefully add them to the oil with enough room between that they’re not touching. Carefully turn as they cook, browning to a golden brown on all sides. If you like, you can stuff a little meltable vegan cheese in the middle (we used a little broken up Follow Your Heart vegan Provolone and it worked great, creating a melty center). Serve with a nice pizza sauce for dipping.

Times are tough. Not only do we have to live with this constant fear of growing critically ill with a mysterious virus that no one exactly understands, but, to make matters worse, we’re having to do so while cut off from friends, family, and some of our favorite activities, like eating out.

Our friends over at Hinterhof recently shared with us a recipe for their Hot Beer Cheese Dip—a favorite of ours—and we just got all of the ingredients together for it this past weekend. Now they’ve given us the go-ahead to share the recipe with all y’all (see below).

For anyone who doesn’t know, Hinterhof‘s the all-vegan German kitchen + beer garden over in Highland Park and it’s one of our favorite places in all of Los Angeles. Like most restaurants right now, they’re relegated to take-out + delivery, but they’re making the best of it, not only for themselves but for their community.

They’ve started making vegan meals for first responders, hospitals, senior citizen centers, and others in-need through Support + Feed, an initiative created by Billie Eilish and her mom Maggie Baird to both support plant-based restaurants in this time of unparalleled economic crisis and feed the neediest and most at-risk in our community at the same time.

We encourage anyone in LA reading this to support Hinterhof by ordering from them; or, if you’re playing it extra-safe right now and not ordering form restaurants, you can donate directly to Support + Feed via Hinterhof’s site or theirs.

On to the recipe!

Note—we actually ran out tempeh, so no smokey tempeh included in the photo here, but it’s real good on there too. Another note—we actually halved the recipe and it worked out pretty great for the three of us. One more note—we also used an IPA (shout out, Three Weavers) since we didn’t have any Hefeweizen in-house, which we liked a lot but it did make for a more hoppy, bitter end-note. Ooh, final note—Blöde Kuh (see recipe) is actually delivering to a lot of Los Angeles and the OC right now (as is Three Weavers, come to think of it). Also, go vegan.

Hinterhof’s Warm Beer Cheese Dip
◊ 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
◊ 1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
◊ 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
◊ 1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeño (if so desired)
◊ 12 ounces beer (they use Weihenstephan Hefeweizen)
◊ 8 ounces Blöde Kuh “Schmear This” vegan cream cheese
◊ 4 cups of your favorite vegan shredded cheddar cheese (we used Follow Your Heart, but also love Paremla’s)
◊ smokey tempeh, diced + sautéed
◊ green onions, chopped

Sautee shallot, jalapeño and garlic until fragrant. Add beer and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the cream cheese and stir with a wire whisk until cream cheese is melted + well-combined. Add cheddar shreds to the mixture and stir constantly until melted + smooth. Top with smokey tempeh + green onions (and maybe a sliced pepper), dig in! (Like this kid.)

Branding work largely is and always has been the bread + butter of our studio’s work for the past thirteen plus years.

For anyone not really familiar with the term, branding goes well beyond your logo. Done right, brand development not only gives you an effective working logo, but, more importantly, it approaches your mission, audiences, vision, and future marketing practices at a wholistic, predictive level, giving your business, non-profit, NGO, or any other enterprise a strategically distinctive voice + edge in a competitive market, regardless of what that market is.

But before we even get to that point as a studio, we’ve always strongly prioritized exploration of differential paths along the way for our clients. Put more clearly, less jargon-y-ly—we want our clients to see a bunch of solid, exciting, and (maybe above all) fun + cool choices from the start; paths that are distinct choices in terms of brand direction, each of which achieve the client’s goals in different ways. After all, there’s no one singular path to success, in this realm or any other.

So we thought it might be helpful—and fun—to share a glimpse into our brand development process in specific, walking through some of the design paths we explored with an actual client. The client in question—GirlVentures, a Bay Area non-profit that inspires girls to lead through outdoor adventure, inner discovery, and collective action. Here you’ll find the organization’s final brand (above) and some of the brands and draft logos we explored for and presented to GirlVentures along the way (shown here with the client’s permission, of course).

We always start theses processes off with a kind of survey that organically teases out some foundational ideas for the developing brand in a way that can easily be understood, whether you consider yourself a ‘visual person’ or not. That’s followed by meetings—be them in-person or remote—so we can talk things through with the client in as natural a way as possible.

GirlVentures came to us through Julia Hornaday, a UK-based marketing consultant + strategist who was in the process of helping the group to evolve their entire mission + vision, putting a greater emphasis on leadership, inclusivity, and social justice through outdoor education and mentorship. Wanting to fold those ideas into an equally evolved brand that would telegraph that newly honed messaging, much of the emphasis throughout the process were on the duality between the “what”—leadership, identity, and community for girls—and the “how”—outdoor education, environmental stewardship, and the profoundness of the natural world.

That, along with further background, story, and audience information that we developed over time in the process, led to multiple branding paths, both in our initial + subsequent rounds of work and presentations. Actually looking back and counting now—8 in the first round of work, and 21 in later rounds, most exploring totally distinct design paths, but a few acting as slight variations on a parent draft brand.

With each draft brand we present, we also show clients some simple mock-ups—we’ve found this helps everyone picture how the brands could be used in the real world rather than just floating in a kind of visual void, especially for self-described “non-visual-types”.

So be it a mock-up of a brochure or publication or some merch or a web page created with design software or actually built on the quick so it’s responsive on screens, we’ve found that doing this extra bit of work up front both streamlines the process as a whole and helps raise confidence in the brand as the client can see it being used, making its benefits + advantages more clear to everyone, ourselves included.

Specially with GirlVentures, we pretty quickly zeroed in on tapping the natural world for our primary imagery, partly because of the universal appeal and root of it in GirlVentures work, partly due to an old branding adage we’ve found holds up to most marketing tests—if it’s in your name, don’t put it in your logo; if it’s in your logo, don’t put it in your name.Even if you know nothing about the group (which is generally a good place to start when thinking about most audiences), it’s clear to anyone who understand English that girls are core to the mission of GirlVentures. What’s not clear in the name is the “how”—the transformative nature of the outdoors. So, early on, that vein of imagery strategically began to dominate the paths of design + messaging.

In the end, after narrowing the range on style and a few basic natural elements, we played around with color, enclosing shape, layout, and other variables until we ended up with our final mark + overarching brand. Then with this branding projects as with all others, we package files, delivering a tidy folder with a full range of file formats for every need and a basic one-sheet with guidance on when to use what and some best practices for logo use. We also create larger guidance publications that can number in the 20s, 30s, or more in pages, but those are usually reserved for our larger clients who know they’ll be doing a lot of cross-org/cross-business work with their brand or have a lot of file use outside their own departments.

But this is just one branding story for one client—though we’ve seen our fair share of commonalities in working through this process over the past thirteen plus years, we’ve also learned that every client and every process is unique, which, in addition to making this work our bread + butter, also makes it some of the most exciting + fun work we do.

Want to see more of these brand dev. breakdowns? Take a look at our portfolio and let us know if you’d like to know the story behind one we’ve done; if the client’s cool with it, we’ll share here.

A couple weeks back, right when it started to become clear that this whole situation we’re all in right now was something much larger and longer-lasting than we first thought, we started to focus more on what’s traditionally brought us peace + calm in the most trying of times.

Like many others, we went immediately to music. These days, for better or worse, many of us are locked into a certain habitual way of taking in music—we put on our usual stream from Spotify or Apple or whomever and we hear what we’ve heard before or something similar; echo chambers of music without much organic or natural exploration, much like how many of us now take in our news or politics or ‘facts’.

But in this instance, our minds went back to another time when music—though far less free-flowing—was shared more deliberately.

We’ve talked about this on these pages before, but back in Brooklyn, in the aughts, some friends of ours started this monthly mixtape club we were part of. The idea itself was harkening back already, to those years for us in high school + college when we’d spend hours selecting songs and recording a mixtape on a cassette for a friend; and then spend maybe as much or more time creating the cover art for the same tape. But in this club, dubbed the Brooklyn Music Exchange (BMX), once a month a member of the twenty or so person collective put together a mix of tracks from different artists and then would make as many CDs as there were members, mailing them out to each member. In kind, each member got a new mix of music every month. Sometimes they were themed, sometimes not, but it was a really fun way to both engage with each other creatively and discover music we might not have otherwise. To this day, we count some of our favorite bands amongst ones we discovered through BMX and these friend-curated mixes.

So we decided to rekindle this club, reaching out to friends, cohorts, and just people who’s taste in music we respect for songs in two separate-but-timely themes:

BREATHE—favorite songs that bring peace + calm
and
DANCE—favorite songs that bring joy + movement

Here we’re sharing both those mixtapes for anyone who wants to listen. We hope they bring you both peacefulness and dance parties.

Endless thanks to the friends who helped bring these together with us (in no particular order): Jessica Schoen, Thad Knouse, originator of the BMX Agatha Knouse, Dave Dalton, Anne Cunningham of the band Trummors, John Capone of Whalebone Magazine, Flow from Morr Music, our favorite KCRW DJ José Galván, Danielle Fee, Susie Heimbach, Jeff Gramm, Becca Walker, Maureen Hoban, Paul Singh of Pel, Allison Brooker, and everyone else who contributed or wanted to but couldn’t make the time or bandwidth—we love all y’all!

Stay safe, stay well, stay sane—we’ll all be dancing together in person before we know it.

Track list for each mix below for anyone who wants it.

B R E A T H E
1—Fire Truck—Andy Shauf
2—Our Swords—Band Of Horses
3—I Can Feel It—Sloan
4—5 Long Days—Mind Shrine
5—Dead Mans Will—Calexico / Iron And Wine
6—Windfall (2015 Remastered)—Son Volt Trace (Expanded)
7—Up All Night—The War On Drugs
8—Gimme Shelter—The Rolling Stones
9—I Can’t Let Maggie Go—The Honeybus
10—Trees We Couldn’t Tell The Size Of—Wished Bone
11—Wildflowers—Tom Petty
12—Boat Song—Garrett Pierce
13—Alton Ellis + Hortense Ellis—Breaking Up
14—Take What You Can Carry—Mia Doi Todd
15—Heart Of Glass—Lily Moore
16—All the Pretty Girls—KALEO
17—Higher Than the Sun (Single Mix)—Primal Scream
18—Desert Raven—Jonathan Wilson
19—Sitting Still Moving Still Staring Outlooking—His Name is Alive
20—Live at AvantJazz—Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek

D A N C E
1—Cloudbusting (2018 Remaster)—Kate Bush
2—Mr Fingers—Nisantashi Primary
3—Let The Speakers Blow—Big Gigantic
4—Dancing Box (feat. TTC)—Modeselektor
5—PARAD(w/m)E—Sylvan Esso
6—You’re so Pretty—FM Belfast
7—Windy Cindy—People Get Ready
8—Shuffle—Bombay Bicycle Club
9—High Time—LEGS
10—Heatstroke—Glorietta
11—Why When Love Is Gone—The Isley Brothers
12—Sweet Soul Music—Arthur Conley
13—Automatic—The Pointer Sisters
14—Blind—Hercules and Love Affair
15—I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You—Black Kids
16—drowninginthedark—Dan Black
17—Thursday (The Twelves Remix)—Asobi Seksu
18—Dangerous (DJ Dainjah Remix)—Busta Rhymes
19—Hang With Me—Robyn
20—Love at First Site—Kylie Minogue

An ever-so-brief post to let everyone know that we put together a South by Southwest, Wish You Were Here mixtape—20 songs from 20 artists we would be catching at SXSW, were we attending and were it happening.

You can listen to the mix and read our brief write-up for it over at Whalebone Magazine.

Enjoy and stay safe, stay well, stay sane, and stay home everybody.

Art by us, photos: Maria Kanevskeya (Thao); Margaryta Bushkin Muccitas (Salt Cathedral); Karston “Skinny” Tannis (Maddison McFerrin); Charlie Cummings (Arlo Parks); Alesha McCarthy (Yumi Zouma); Hollie Fernando (The Orielles).

We posted a brief version of this via Instagram a bit back but thought we’d give this whole thing a permanent home not (yet) dependent on the whims of social media.

As we stated on IG, when representing data visually—which we do a lot in our day-to-day work—we always want to make things as compelling and as interesting as possible. Given the fact that we’re a creative agency, it’s certainly our job to do so for our clients, but especially in this crowded field where we’re all trying to catch the eye of our audience as most attention spans just get shorter and shorter, it’s just a good idea to cut through the noise, whatever the industry.

Using circular forms to represent data rather than employing your more run-of-the-mill bar or line graphs has been a trend for ages now and it makes sense—visually, circles are just more fun and make your product less likely to be mistaken for a boring, data-trance-inducing throwaways. But doing so also presents some inherent problems.

Doing these visualizations by hand, most of us would understandably use the diameter of a circle to reflect a data point if we’re inputting in design software or apps (the full width/height, for anyone relatively removed from the world of mathematical language—it’s been a while, right?). But doing so actually creates a false representation of data, exaggerating the difference between smaller and larger amounts in the same field since we, as viewers, learned long ago to judge the size of circles by their area, not just their height as we would with a bar graph, where we’ve been taught to ignore the bars’ width as inconsequential in data.

But we’re visual people talking about a visual problem—let’s put this in visual terms: Below, you’ll see the same data set representing the numbers 1, 5, and 10 in relation to each other, first incorrectly, using only a single dimension (diameter) and then correctly using proportional area (two dimensions). As you can see, the difference visually is pretty striking. The first, incorrectly drafted set shows massive differences in these values, painting a pretty dramatic picture; the second, correctly done set is far less dramatic but demonstrates a more realistic difference between the data values.

So, yes, we can use circular forms to represent data, we just need to do so with area, not diameter. If you’re using charting software like Excel or the like and you’re not doing anything fancy with the visualization, you don’t need to worry about this as any data app worth its salt is going to chart circles correctly. But if you’re doing custom work to, say, fit a company brand or just to have more control over the design + layout, which we do often for clients, you need to employ some basic but not necessarily routine or natural calculations.

In theory, you need to back-engineer the proportional area for each of the values. Since A = π r², you’d technically take data set values, find their square root and then divide by pi. But since, again, visually data sets like these are only showing you single data points in relation to every other data point in the set, and since every data point would be reduced to a radius, each of which would be divided by pi, you don’t need to do that extra math since, proportionally, it’s giving you the same relative difference in sizes for the circles. Plus dividing already divided numbers by 3.14159265359 et cetera could give you some pretty minuscule numbers that you’d then have to multiply up to have them show up as pixels. Too much math.

Do this instead—get your data set and calculate the square root for each data point, then use that for the value of the circle’s diameter when creating circles in a data visualization. Again, for my fellow readers who consider themselves far removed from the days of daily mathematics, the square root symbol on a calculator’s the one that looks like this: √ (or with a 2 in the upper left of that symbol). The only trick is determining the size of your largest and smallest circles—which’ll define the amount of space you’ll need in any kind of circle or bubble data visualization—before you get too far in any customization. Too much space? Take them all and size down proportionally. Smallest point invisible? Size all the circles up proportionally.

If you’re calculating some lower whole numbers, though, the guys over at InfoNewt came up with a quick reference PDF that you can download too.

Happy visualizing, friends!

Pictured above, a funding map we created with correctly sized circles for the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund, who provide quick, efficient humanitarian assistance around the world to people caught up in crises; below, a bunch of bubbles we calculated by blowing into a ring of glycerine. Cue Bush song.