A Kaleidoscope of Stories (Smithsonian Institution 2020)

Based in Washington D. C., the Smithsonian Institution is the one of the world’s largest museum, education, and research complexes. Their 2020 annual report tells a variety of stories, not just through text and photographs, but also through pattern, colour and illustration.

The cover of the report is nearly kaleidoscopic, giving the reader a sneak peek into what’s in store inside the pages. On turning the cover, the reader encounters a detailed, digitized piece of art on the inner cover, which they will later see carries on into the back page inner cover as well.

The section on their impact in data, curiously, has numbers stated in words and not figures. Coupled with a series of pen-and-ink illustrations, the reader is likely to spend a little extra time on this page in order to get a sufficient overview.

As the next page is turned, the reader will just need to see the vaccine vial labelled ‘Pfizer’ to know that the accompanying page will speak of pandemic-related challenges.

A rather somber page to have right at the opening, but the lens through which the rest of the report must be viewed.

A photographic collage from virtual meetings fills nearly an entire page, signifying the changes in modes of communication that took place at the Smithsonian in 2020.

After that, the report introduces story upon story. It begins to look like a photo journal, packed with stories, conveyed through photographs. There are photographs of nature and landscapes, of artwork or paintings, and also of various patterned illustrations, that add pop to this report.

In this section with stories, what would usually be white space in most reports is either a photograph, print or pattern. The reader might want to dwell a little longer on this section, as though they were physically at the Smithsonian, perusing and enjoying what it has to offer.

In the section that follows – a list of donors is interspersed with photographs to help break the monotony, adding a splash of colour as well as a continued sense of intrigue.

Nothing short of vibrant and artistic, this report is as good as any storybook.

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