Visualisation Reflections: #4 Visual Thinker

This is a follow-up post to my fourth article in the Visualisation Insights series which I published earlier this week. The purpose of this companion series is to optimise the learning opportunities from each insights article, reflecting on the ideas, issues and observations to emerge.


Why did I choose this subject?

I first came across Carlos when we established contact in June following my blog post presenting a collection of World Cup visualisations and infographics and since then I have been keenly following his updates on dMultimedia and contributions to the great graphics on lainformacion.

My principal reason for doing this article was because I am intrigued by the unique environment of working for a web-based newspaper. I wanted to understand better the specific challenges that accompany this world and specifically learn about the background behind the innovative lainformacion concept.  Secondly, I wanted to find out more about the status of the visualisation field from Carlos’ perspective in Spain – a real hotbed of information design talent – and learn about the influences/pathways that lead designers into this career.


Impressions prior to the interview?

The lainformacion web model is a fascinating digital news media and business concept – a contemporary solution to information age we occupy – which draws content from a tripartite of information sources: professional journalists, engaged users and digital robots curating news from elsewhere on the web.

Here is a short graphic video further explaining the concept:

I was already aware of lainformacion before making contact with Carlos, having seen much coverage about its launch nearly 18 months through Chiqui Esteban’s Infographics News blog. I was struck by Chiqui’s description of his ambitions for the lainformacion:

We’re still too young, with many many things to improve and keep growing. We don’t want a infographics department, we want a visual stories department. Without frontiers or prejudices: just trying to tell stories on the way the stories deserve to be told. Not taking them to our territory, but going us to where they need us to go.

This is a fantastic mindset and term of reference from which to approach all design challenges. Such clarity of purpose unquestionably has a huge impact on the quality of output coming from this team. Here is a great video compilation of some these examples over the first 12 months of lainformacion:

Prior to the interview I have been greatly impressed by Carlos’ achievements as a visual thinker/multimedia visualisation designer and consider him to be at the forefront of ‘visual journalism’, for want of a better label. His prominent contributions to the early success of lainformacion as a member of a small but dedicated team is testament to his standing. I was therefore confident that interviewing such an experienced and extremely accomplished designer would make for a great insights article.



Impressions after the interview?

As you can see from the article, I was fortunate that Carlos provided a great level of detail about his background, methods and opinions. Within his responses I have found a great number of interesting snippets that really help readers understand the world of a visual designer. For instance, there is great consistency in Carlos’ description of his design style/approach compared with the ideals set out by Chiqui Esteban, above:

My style is based on trying to purify the information in every way possible, to centre on the important aspects of news and to be clear, simple and direct. To facilitate to the reader the information they have in front of their eyes, trying to not frustrate with unnecessary useless devices or abstract visualizations. The journalistic information must be rigorous and clear.

This reveals a professional who is entirely focused on communicating for the benefit of understanding, not just for the benefit of visual appeal or distracting gimmickry. This message is wonderfully reinforced later:

I’m very motivated about technology, graphics can open doors that we would have never thought before. But I also see that we have a wolf at the door. I am sure that it’s not positive to prefer the technology to the information. Infographics, and journalism must not be subordinated to the technology. The information always must be the first.

That is not to say that there is no room for innovation and I am particularly fond of Carlos’ work that integrate sound and vision, such as the visualisation of how a Formula 1 engine sounds and the piece presenting the Spanish economic information:

I wanted to communicate sensations, that the user should measure the pulse of the Spanish economy without need to open the eyes. I defined it in three levels: one, linear and for a passive user; two, 100% interactive; and three, more playful almost as a ‘gadget’ offering a musical keyboard.

Another aspect that really impresses me about the work of Carlos and his team is the speed of the creativity, data gathering and validation, design and execution that comes with the daily demand to generate visual content to accompany news items.

There is generally a lack of sufficient praise within the visualisation field for this type of work, and indeed a lack of recognition for the unique constraints and pressures designers face in such environments. A great piece on Michael Agar’s iGraphics Explained blog echoes this.

Aside from technical and design capabilities, the key to success in this arena comes from having an excellent team environment and on this theme I really liked his description of the fluidity, the relationships and working patterns of his lainformacion colleagues:

Our team works in a transversal way, without walls that separate us. Any colleague can share or form a part of a project relying on the experience of the people in charge of every department.

Finally, I’ll leave this piece with a further interesting insight from the New Digitial Narratives blog (paraphrased somewhat):

The graphic work done [by this] small team is astonishing… they are fast like the best writers of the best newswire services. They are quick, but accurate, and always focus on “the news behind the news” trying to explain, to find out, discover new angles and delivering not just facts but graphic ideas and fast quality journalism. They have limited resources but unlimited creativity, and shows what you can do when you have real journalists.



Acknowledgement

Once again many thanks to Carlos for putting a huge amount of effort into contributing this article content. I wish him and his colleagues at lainformacion all the best for the future. You can follow Carlos’ updates on his dMultimedia blog, via Twitter and also connect up with him on LinkedIn.

Keep your eye out for future insights articles, with many interesting interviews and interviewees lined up…