India Interview

Questions from Sajeev

In preparation for the upcoming WAN-IFRA workshop, Thiruvananthapuram journalist Sajeev Kumar T.k. and I sat down for a quick back-and-forth on Messanger.

Updated August 10, 2019

(cue the Facebook messanger chime)

Sajeev Kumar What are the basics of good information graphics?

Chris Courtney At the core of what we do, clear communication of information is fundamental for any graphic to be considered good.

SK Some charts looks visually appealing but complicated. Do you think information graphics should be simple and easy to understand?

c2 Absolutely. As Alberto Cairo points out in his upcoming book "How Charts Lie," we haven't been using language all that long and we misinterpret the meaning of our words all the time. Graphics are an even newer language, so it's even easier to confuse people with overtly complicated presentations.

SK Do you think information graphics is going to occupy most of the space in newspapers in the future?

c2 Actually, no. I believe these graphics will be distillations of more complex online offerings, but they will serve a specific job to bring clarity to a story. To do that, they will not be overtly complex. They'll deliver information, point people to the truth and make room for photography to rule the space in newspapers.

SK What are the new trends in information graphics?

c2 I believe we'll see more stories born out of discovery via data rather than reporting that goes digging into data for confirmation. I believe we're really just beginning to see this takeoff.

SK What is the future of print information graphics?

c2 The future of newspapers is analysis. Why did that big thing yesterday or last week matter? To explain why events are important, we'll need to be able to explain these moments to people and I do believe information graphics and data visualization will play a big role in that.

SK Can you tell us about the different approaches in doing graphics?

c2 There are a few ways that different approaches could come into play with graphics. One obvious one is determined by how an organization utilizes its graphics team. Are they a service-oriented team that primarily supports reporters or are they an investigative team seeking out possible stories. Much of that is determined by the management of an organization. Could they use one tool or another, sure, but that's not the most important thing when it comes to how an organization approached graphics.

SK Which tools are most used in creating graphics and do you foresee any new techniques or tools?

c2 Automation is coming, and in some aspects already here. Lorraine Justice points to this in her book "The Future of Design," stating that designers in the future won't make the product but select and tweak the option that best represents the intended story. Machines are great at producing lots of options. Humans are great at sifting through those and finding the story in the data. Working together, we'll be able to deliver better work that is easier to understand for our readers.

SK It is heard that some newspapers are using software's for doing graphics. Can you give some light into it?

c2 Undoubtably, some organizations are leveraging d3.js. I know the New York Times was making a big push that direction in years past. Other organizations might not have a team that can just create d3 visualizations everyday so they leverage platforms like Tableau or datawrapper. Ultimately, if it helps you create clear graphics for your readers, I'm a fan of it.

SK New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and South China Morning Post is the front runners in newspaper information graphics. How different are they compared to each other?

c2 I would agree with most of those names as top contenders. If there was a common thread between them, I see a lot of instances where they are using small multiples extremely well. You can peek into an SND Best of Annual and see this trend over-and-over again. Other big names to keep in mind are National Geographic, Nature, and Die Zeit. I would also encourage people to look beyond the big brand name organizations and pay attention to smaller orgs like Info.raphics from Germany and The Pudding from America.

SK What are some of your favorite infographics in recent months? And why?

c2 We've got a bad vaccination problem here in the US and I believe this visualization from The Pudding qualifies as one. Ziet Online also has a wonderful visualization of migratory patterns between former East and West Germany. Definitely worth a look. In each instance, they are easy to follow and tell a clear story.

SK Which was your best infographics and how you conceived it?

c2 Oddly enough, I did a map of traffic accidents around Chicago. It was really a series of small multiples laid over a map. It showed where the most dangerous intersections were. It was useful and very easy to read. Was it the coolest? No, and my boss had to steer me away from something else that would have been awful. Being able to illustrate anything I wanted didn't make me the best graphic designer. Needless to say, I've learned over the years.

SK Did you work on a template or approach every graphics independently?

c2 I think you must have a base template to work from and you can modify as needed. Starting from scratch every time isn't good for anyone.

SK What are the most important considerations for infographic designers?

c2 We have to remember that we're not here to make things 'look cool.' We bring value to the organization and the reader when we being clarity to an issue. If it also happens to 'look cool,' great, but 'cool' is not the goal in itself.

SK What mistake do less experienced designers tend to make?

c2 Confusing complexity for value. I did this over-and-over again because I didn't respect the reader enough. When you understand that the reader doesn't have time to invest because they are busy with daily life, you want to simplify for them. We don't do that enough and when we stop and think about it, we realize how much we have let those readers down.

SK Do you think graphics will occupy the digital space more than the print?

c2 I think print graphics will distill the story being shared to the community while that same graphic will be available online for people to use. This is how we push between the two platforms.

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