“What the F**k Are Infographics?” (notes on a presentation)

ICON8 Conference logo
“Infographics suck!” proclaimed Jennifer Daniel and Alicia DeSantis, graphics editors for the New York Times. They spoke yesterday at the ICON8 Conference, a national gathering of illustrators. I hung on their every word.

It’s a pretty sassy claim, but they pointed out that “infographics” have become a style and a marketing ploy to get people to click. I sadly have to agree that the term “infographics” — which IMHO did have meaning before about 2011 — has been completely subverted online.

They prefer the term “visual journalism,” and they showed brief case studies that illustrated their approach. It’s mostly concept and only a bit execution. They described their job as:

RESEARCH and CREATE
diagrams • charts • graphs • maps • photos
illustrations • animation • typography
videos • multimedia • code

Every project they showed was in a different style, because the content and intent of each newspaper/magazine story is different. Yessss! That’s something the illustration industry often doesn’t understand.

Editors and art directors often bring them bad ideas, sometimes suggesting illustrations that could be replaced by a single sentence. They then generate their own ideas. They insist on coming up with an idea for truly engaging visuals.

BE INTERESTING
Reveal patterns
Describe relationships
Provide context
Spark curiosity

They described their process in a way that made me deeply envious. First, they emphasized

RESEARCH
Become a reporter!
Ask questions of experts.
Pick up the phone.

This reminds me of my plea to clients, “hire me for my head as well as my hands!”

Then they talked about how every project is collaborative, and my envy soared.

GET HELP
statisticians • cartographers • developers • animators
photographers • video editors • modelers • programmers

Working with all these experts let them

EXPERIMENT

And that’s when they invent new forms of visually presenting information. ahhhhh.

The best visual journalism, they suggest, strengthens the story with emotive or intellectual content. It satisfies “both Bart and Lisa” by having both an at-a-glance takeaway and a deep dive into information. This Simpsons allegory they credit to their colleague Shan Carter.

DEEPLY SATISFYING

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