We published climate change visual communication guidelines

Researchers from the Interactive Technologies Institute (ITI) found that climate change visual communication has followed trends. They also propose design guidelines to engage communities successfully in this field. Their results have been published in the 9th Congress of the International Association of Societies of Design Research.

Marta Ferreira, PhD student and first author, is working on better communicating climate change through data visualisations. Her literature review study has demonstrated that climate change visual communication has followed different trends. “The earliest projects, up until 2016, were much more focused on energy-related topics such as eco-feedback technologies. Since then, there has been a shift towards sustainable lifestyles and biodiversity”, she adds.

Positive, neutral, and negative messages

Supervised by Nuno Nunes and Valentina Nisi, she found that most climate change visual communication projects have a neutral tone. Most of the analysed projects presented neutral framing visualisations that lacked suggestions for actionable steps for application afterwards. “We considered “negative framing” messages those that focused on what we lost or will lose as negative consequences of climate change. “Neutral framing” were those that just communicated the facts in a neutral exposition of the issue. The interactions that focused on what can be achieved with change were classified as “positive framing”, explains Marta.

Design recommendations

Based on the analysis of 74 projects, the team has proposed a set of implications for design that take advantage of diverse communication strategies. The authors believe these proposals could help better engage audiences, leading them to act. “Our findings support that choosing the topic based on impact and the target audience is best. For example, Project Drawdown points to impactful solutions that normally receive comparably little attention. These include high-quality, inclusive education, or topics related to the food system and land management”, clarifies the researcher. Marta and her supervisors also claim that interactive engagement is key to successful engagement, mainly in daily routine places like bus stations, shops, or the street.

Another suggestion is to convey the topic in a positive frame, using a narrative adapted to the audience, and providing ideas for actionable steps. “One of the big issues people face is not knowing what to do. Climate change is such a complex issue that sometimes even concerned individuals don’t know how to act beyond the more discussed actions, such as recycling. Adding actionable proposals linked to the communicated topic can help people better connect with the issue and feel empowered instead of depressed with the daunting task ahead”, she adds.

A testbed about whales

Some of these suggestions are already being adopted by the Interactive Technologies Institute in some of our projects. Finding Arcadia is an interactive data story related to the ocean ecosystems and whales, aiming to test these implications for design. The research community agrees that it is critical to reconnect audiences with this complex and highly charged issue to overcome this global challenge.


Ferreira, M., Nisi, V., Nunes, N. (2022). Interaction for Crisis: A Review of HCI and Design Projects on Climate Change and How They Engage with the General Public. In: Bruyns, G., Wei, H. (eds) [ ] With Design: Reinventing Design Modes. IASDR 2021. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-4472-7_56