In order to sprinkle some star dust into the contents of my book I've been doing a few interviews with various professionals from data visualisation and related fields. These people span the spectrum of industries, backgrounds, roles and perspectives. I gave each interviewee a selection of questions from which to choose six to respond. This latest interview is with Stefanie Posavec, Information Designer and soon to be a published co-author. Thank you, Stef!

Q1 | What was your entry point into the field: From what education/career background did you transition into the world of data visualisation/infographics?

A1 | I studied in university to be a graphic designer on my BA, then completed an MA in Communication Design, where I started to be drawn towards working with data. What's interesting is that on the course I wasn't really aware that what I was creating was data visualisation until someone described it later; my course emphasised designing information within the scope of book design or wayfinding systems, but data visualisation as practised by a designer was perhaps a pretty new concept then.

Q2 | We are all influenced by different principles, formed through our education, experience and/or exposure to others in the field - if you had to pick one guiding principle that is uppermost in your thoughts as you work on a visualisation or infographic, what would it be?

A2 | 'Everything must have a reason'... A principle that I learned as a graphic designer that still applies to information design. In essence, everything needs to be rationalised and have a logic to why it's in the design / visualisation, or it's out.

Q3 | How do you mitigate the risk of drifting towards content creep (eg. trying to include more dimensions of a story or analysis than is necessary) and/or feature creep (eg. too many functions of interactivity)?

A3 | In my mind, I see a strong concept as being a single unified thread, where the data, the aesthetic, the visual metaphor, the editorial focus, and so on all work to communicate this grand overarching concept. This sounds strange, but I spend a lot of my time trying to mentally link this concept thread in a complete circle, tying the entire concept into a neat package. If something doesn't help create this 'neatly-packaged' feeling in my mind, I cut it. (harder than it sounds, of course!)

Q4 | At the start of a design process we are often consumed by different ideas and mental concepts about what a project ‘could’ look like. How do you maintain the discipline to recognise when a concept is not fit for purpose (for the data, analysis or subject you are ultimately pursuing)?

A4 | I tend to keep referring back to the original brief (even if it's a brief I've made myself) to keep checking that the concepts I'm creating tick all the right boxes. Or, sometimes I get excited about an idea but if I talk about it to friends and it's hard to describe effectively then I know that the concept isn't clear enough. Sometimes just sleeping on it is all it takes to separate the good from the bad!

Q5 | How important to you is the idea of establishing a workflow/process that you can adopt on any new task you work on? Alternatively, does your experience give you the confidence to be able approach tasks with a greater sense of freestyling, not being constrained by a sequenced approach to thinking?

A5 | Having an established workflow is important to me, as it helps me cover all the bases of a project, and feel confident that my concept has a sound logic. I wish I could freestyle more often, but unfortunately I think it goes against my nature! But having said that, spending much of my time working on a drawing project this year where you can't 'undo' mistakes like you can on the computer has helped me become more free-form as I am less afraid of making mistakes, so I think this can be learned (after learning a basic process first, that is)

Q6 | Beyond the world of infographics/visualisation what other disciplines/subject areas/hobbies/interests do you feel introduce valuable new ingredients and inspire ongoing refinement of your techniques?

A6 | Recently taking up drawing has helped me better articulate the images I see in my mind, otherwise I still follow up on all different types of design and art outside information design / data visualisation. I try to look at things outside my field as often as I can to keep my mind fresh as opposed to only looking at projects from my field for inspiration.

Header image taken from Stefanie's work on the project '(En)tangled Word Bank'.

Six questions with... Valentina D'efilippo
Talk slides from Information+ conference