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Designing the Illinois Attorney General's report on child sex abuse in the Catholic church

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"The Illinois attorney general’s gut-wrenching 696-page report on Catholic clergy child sex abuse in Illinois is illustrated, incongruously but perhaps necessarily, with aspirational images of the Prairie State: cornfields at sunrise, the shimmering waters of Lake Michigan, sunsets over lakes and barns, gorgeous stained glass windows.

"But the text, which is agonizing reading, reveals a much uglier side of Illinois."

- Chicago Tribune, May 24, 2023


The Illinois Attorney General's office engaged Imaginary with a deceptively simple request - to take an investigative report and turn it into a professional, polished and cohesive report.  

On Tuesday, May 23rd, the Illinois Attorney General’s office held a press conference releasing the “Report of Catholic Clergy Child Sex Abuse in Illinois” the result of its multi-year investigation into the Catholic church in Illinois.  Almost immediately, the report went viral.

The project began with a series of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets - data from many sources compiled by many hands.  It fell to us to clean and normalize the data, transforming all the various pieces into a unified whole, with revisions and updates up to the 11th hour. What resulted was a 696-page report that has caught the attention of the world.

As we read through the drafts and saw the scope of the investigation, we began to understand the weight of the request. The report dealt with complex and extremely sensitive subject matter. How does one design a visually appealing report filled with such tragic content? 

The very notion of making the content appealing felt dissonant. This was never going to be a fun read. And shouldn’t be. But, we thought, what we might do was to help readers make it through the difficult material so that it would reach as many people as possible, and to present the material with grace and integrity, showing respect to the survivors whose stories are the foundation of the report. 

The first choice was to honor all the survivors by choosing teal for the color scheme. Since the year 2000, teal has been used by advocates of sexual assault awareness to coordinate awareness and prevention efforts. So we took the color to be the backbone of the report.  Beyond the cover and accents throughout the report, each diocese has its own color based on a variant of teal. These variations provide a subtle orientation clue as to which diocese is under discussion at any given point.

One of the biggest design challenges we faced was the choice of images. In long blocks of text, images serve as a bit of visual reprieve, a kindness to the eye, making it easier to carry on. They are also useful to provide milestones and a sense of pace to a reader’s progress. Often images will be used to heighten the emotional appeal or to provide a visual reflection of the written material. It was clear pretty quickly that reflecting the report’s content in imagery in any way was a non-starter. What was needed was a neutral, calming presence. 

What we landed on was the use of imagery that rooted the report in the location it represents. All of the images are of Illinois landscapes and landmarks. Studies have shown that engaging with the natural world, even by looking at pictures, helps to lower stress levels, increase positive outlook, enhance positive social tendencies and support recovery. It was our hope that threading this grounding influence throughout the report would help readers get through the very difficult and triggering material. 

By restricting the images to those depicting places in Illinois itself, we hoped to also underlie the message that all this has been happening right here where we live. To bring it home.

For the sections containing survivor narratives, even the benign presence of natural images felt too distracting, so we decided to leave those sections uninterrupted by imagery, letting those voices that have long been silenced ring through clearly.

In the end, we are very proud of our part in bringing this important information forward and hope that the care we placed in its presentation helped readers as they read through the report.

The Tribune editorial noted that the report “ illustrated, incongruously but perhaps necessarily, with aspirational images of the Prairie State…”  “Incongruously but perhaps necessarily” is the best way to characterize it.

Read our press release at

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If you want to learn more about how our team can help you create a visually engaging report or website that is professional and empathetic to the reader, please don't hesitate to reach out. We would happily discuss your needs and provide a custom solution that fits your unique requirements.

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