Designing Minimalist

Alec Aja reflects on his first few weeks as a Circle of Blue intern and on how clear, concise design can make complex global issues more approachable and understandable.

Today marks the end of my fourth week as a graphic design intern for Circle of Blue. I’m working with classmate Amanda Northrop — we’re both in the design program at Grand Valley State University.

Amanda radiates with enthusiasm over the design opportunities that Circle of Blue offers.

During my first week, Amanda and I collaborated on an infographic showing how a decade of coal industry expansion has affected the economics of Australia’s Hunter Valley. This graphic accompanied a piece by Aaron Jaffe, a Circle of Blue producer and reporter.

My next project was a timeline of drought and water policies in Georgia, which will accompany a story written by Brett Walton, a Circle of Blue reporter based in Seattle. Last week, I started mapping the Apalachicola oyster industry for Atlanta-based reporter Codi Yeager’s piece on the region.

Australia Map water use Hunter Valley Muswellbrooke energy agriculture forestry manufacturing wine winery vineyard

georgia timeline drought water policy brett walton alec aja

Apalachicola codi yeager alec aja oyster farming industry harvest aquaculture

Click on the first image above to enlarge the infographic that Amanda and I made during my first week — it shows how expansion of Australia’s coal industry has impacted the economics of the Hunter Valley. Click the second and third images above to see a sneak peak of the Georgia timeline that I’m working on for Brett and the Apalachicola map that I’m working on for Codi.

The timeline and the map design demonstrate a minimalist approach. Clear and concise design makes these complex global issues approachable and digestible, and I’m looking forward to more collaboration with Amanda, as well as the rest of the team around the world.

Interested in design? Want to know what it’s like to intern with Circle of Blue? Email me at or comment below.

—Alec Aja
Circle of Blue design intern

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