Behind EXCEL: Cracking the Mystery of Egg Shape

Share |

In this series, we talk with the people who created some of this year’s most exciting EXCEL Award-winning work to find the story behind the project. For more stories behind this year’s EXCEL Awards, look for the August-September issue of Signature magazine. 


Go here for a full list of this year’s EXCEL winners. 

The American Association for the Advancement of Science earned a Gold EXCEL in Digital Media: Website Design Excellence for “Cracking the Mystery of Egg Shape.” So we asked Beth Rakouskas, design director science, to tell us a little bit more about this special project. AAAS won four EXCEL awards this year. 

Sidebar: What’s the story behind this entry? 

Rakouskas: It's a broadly accessible topic that debunks long-held understandings of why eggs are shaped the way they are, and wow, there were so many egg photos and data! The researchers scanned thousands of photographs collected over the course of a century to prove their point about egg shape. They needed to analyze how the eggs looked to understand how they were formed. It was clear that this was a data visualization story from the very conception and we knew we needed to give it a special online presentation. 

Sidebar: What makes this entry special? 

Rakouskas: The visuals team, rather than the text team, initiated and authored the project. We launched a new platform (for our organization) that broke us out of the constraints of our CMS, gave us the ability to go full screen with the visuals, to customize the style of the typography, and to visualize the data in exciting ways. 

Sidebar: What notable hurdles did you overcome to create this?

Rakouskas: Getting approval to do this project in the first place. Finding time to work on it on top of our regular workload. Launching a new platform, creating a new workflow, and solving the many technical issues as they came up. 

Sidebar: What was your greatest achievement during the process? 

Rakouskas: We have been building this team over the past few years, and this was a great opportunity for us to showcase — both internally and externally — the depth and breadth of our visual storytelling skills. 

Sidebar: What special techniques or technologies did you use to create this? 

Rakouskas: Canvas, D3, scroll animation. 

Sidebar: What lessons did you learn from this project? 

Rakouskas: It’s a lot easier for people to understand what’s possible once they have an example to refer to. Now when we say something has the potential to be a “vis” project, people have a point of reference. Since “Eggs” launched, we’ve created five more visual stories on this platform. Each time the process becomes more streamlined and more people in our organization think about the power of visual storytelling and what they might do to work with us on this sort of project in the future.