Exclusive conversations about infographics and data-vizualization
One of the great things about data visualization is its universality. That’s why we try to bring you examples of works from around the world on our Portfolio of The Week, as well as insights from some of the most important names in the data visualization field with the set of interviews in this section.
Also it’s no secret that I’m Portuguese, although residing in Brazil for almost a decade. Therefore, it is with great joy that I share a conversation I had recently with Luis Taklim, which was already a reference in information design when the term ‘infographic’ was being used to describe ’those little maps and charts’ hidden inside the news reports.
Luis, along with the team at Anyforms Design, raised the bar of what an infographic is. Inspired a new generation in Portugal. And as we can see over the next few lines, this ‘mission’ is far from complete – even with the natural difficulties that the publishing market faces across the country.
Visual Loop (VL) – First of all, tell us what is Anyforms Design and how did you came up with the idea of creating a company dedicated to information design?
Louis Taklim (LT) – Back in 2000, when analyzing the publishing market in Portugal, I came across an increasing number of newspapers and magazines, and with the plethora of new titles being released, especially via international licensing. Moreover, all this heritage was in the hands of four major groups and four other small publishers.
With this scenario, I suggested to the administrator of PressMundo, where I was working at the time, the transformation of the infographics department that I managed into a ’sub-company’ . This idea was intended to generate a new business income for the department and ensure our jobs, in case worse days arose.
The process advanced, but ended up in the drawer because the administrator changed with the acquisition of the publisher by Portugal Telecom, which aimed only to create a content center for their interests at the time.
With the fall of the NASDAQ stock market, the media crisis lands in Portugal, and my department was the first to be the target of an attempted termination. I quickly realized that, with the right adaptations, I could transform the original proect in a real infographics content creation company / agency for the entire publishing industry, that at that time was still wide.
In fact, Anyforms Design still has the same characteristics. It remains an agency producing infographics and illustrations. We develop products in the area of information design, unique and tailored to the needs and goals of our clients.
VL - Inevitably, we ask our interviewees what’s their view on the growing popularity of the term ‘infographic’ on the Internet, although not always referring to examples of good practice in information visualization and visual journalism. What are the positive and negative aspects of this popularity?
In my oppinion, this popularity lies more in the ’dialogue’, in blogs, forums, Facebook, etc., but with little reflection in concrete work. There are plenty of online infographics, especially from the media, but are usually the result of an adaptation of the works and themes of the printed versions to the Internet. Specific creations for the web are still (and I think will continue to be) a minority. As Alberto Cairo stated, on the internet there are better alternatives to infographics.
On the other hand, there are some infographic ‘devices’ focused on the analysis of databases that have their effectiveness and popularity. However, they have almost no involvement of infographic experts. It’s all the result of the work made by programmers.
In general, there is some talk around infographics, because it is a quick, effective and objective communication tool, but for most Internet users, it doesn’t mean that much.
Above all, I think that this popularity is the result of the effort of professionals and connoisseurs of this type of communication, in taking out of the newsrooms, libraries and newspaper archives all the works and creatives who have developed this area.
There are plenty of online infographics, especially from the media, but are usually the result of an adaptation of the works and themes of the printed versions to the Internet. Specific creations for the web are still (and I think will continue to be) a minority. As Alberto Cairo stated, on the internet there are better alternatives to infographics.
VL - And this new reality, forced you to make some strategic or operational change at Anyforms Design?
LT – The Internet market hasn’t brought us any special clients. Editorially, there is little investment and, especially, not that much interest in infographics for the web. National companies still make little use of this tool. While doing some work here and there, the time spent and the financial return is not enough to require a special strategy. The paper version remains the most popular.
VL – Looking at the infographic market as a whole, how has Portugal evolved in recent years, compared to other European countries?
LT – Infographic design and its professionals have evolved in a fantastic way. For five or six years now, it has even become a discipline in a few design and media degrees, as well as some masters of editorial design.
Unfortunately, the workspace and the interest of the editorial managers has been decreasing at an alarming rate.
The main publications that used infographics, are doing it less and less, or are seeking very simple and easy works. Charts, bar graphs bubbles, small maps and that’s it.
This situation also reflects the growth of poor quality content, less interesting and more speculative, from the media in general. And I think that, since 2008, this is not an exclusive problem of Portugal. It also exists, with different proportions, in other European countries and in the United States.
VL – Recently, Alberto Cairo mentioned in his interview the cultural differences in the production of infographics. From this premise, it is possible to speak of a ‘Portuguese style’ ? What are the characteristics of this style?
LT – There are styles associated with specific professionals, but we can’t say there’s a ‘Portuguese style’. We must be honest, in Portugal there is simply not enough production and diversity to generate a ‘style’.
The Art Directions are oftentimes handed to foreign professionals, with the re-designs being made by Spanish companies, British and American. It’s natural that who occupies the place of decision tries to pass along his references and, especially, his experience.
I think that, in general, we’re still learning, still need to receive much more from the best markets. Maybe one day, we’ll reach a state of maturity that allows us to have our own style.
VL – There’s been a lot of talking about the migration of infographic designers from the newsrooms to the corporate environment, as companies become more and more aware of the importance of data visualization in the current global scenario. Is this happening in Portugal too? What’s your view on this phenomenon?
LK – Portugal is facing a strange – not to say very hard – moment, and companies are also in that same path.
Unfortunately, we simply don’t have institutions with that kind of concerns, at least that I know of, because until today, I haven’t met any infographic designer that made that change.
VL – And speaking of the infographics professional, if you had to list three essential qualities for anyone wishing to pursue a career in this field, what would they be?
LK – From my experience and based on the type of work we do, I would say:
VL – What about the obstacles? What are the main challenges that affect the daily lives of the professional information designer?
LK – The mother of all things bad in information design is the disarray, both from the professionals in the field and the ones giving us the original material to work with. It’s a simple ‘domino’ process, where the work orders are usually given very late, providing little time to make a good job. And infographic designers themselves are frequently poorly disciplined, systematically generating a negative image that they’re always responsible for delays or failures.
Unfortunately, we are involved in an area where the various players have not yet realized that we always depend on other professionals. It’s a team work and therefore must be well managed.
The mother of all things bad in information design is the disarray, both from the professionals in the field and the ones giving us the original material to work with. It’s a simple ‘domino’ process, where the work orders are usually given very late, providing little time to make a good job.
VL – Of course that the teachings from Universities are important to provide students with a solid theoretical foundation. But it’s only natural that there”s a gap between academics and practice. It is time to review how the visualization of information is addressed in the classroom?
LT – In this case, I can’t say I have a very definite idea. The teaching of information design in Portugal is just taking its first steps and with few results to be studied. I can only share my experience as a professor in the Master of Editorial Design at the Faculty of Fine Arts of Porto.
I try to introduce to my students exercises that reflect the editorial reality. With this, I intend that, in the end, the resulting works have the quality necessary to be publishable in a media organization. To date, 80 percent of the papers received met those goals.
VL – Regarding Brazilian infographics, do you have an opinion to the work being done here? What strikes you the most?
LT – Here in Portugal, It’s not that easy to get in touch with newspapers and magazines produced in Brazil. Only in a handful of stores you’ll find very specific imported titles. However, I often attend to the Malofiej awards in Pamplona, where I have the opportunity to see the excellent work submitted by Brazilian publishers.
I am aware that every year the country receives awards for works done in publications like Veja, Women’sHealth, Mundo Estranho, SuperInteressante, O Globo, Folha de S.Paulo, among others. Those are works of exceptional quality and in this contest Brazil is the third nation with the most awards won. That clearly reflects the wide range of publications in the Brazilian market, and obviously the available space to exhibit your work.
Here in Portugal, It’s not that easy to get in touch with newspapers and magazines produced in Brazil. Only in a handful of stores you’ll find very specific imported titles. However, I often attend to the Malofiej awards in Pamplona, where I have the opportunity to see the excellent work submitted by Brazilian publishers.
VL – Thank you very much, Luís!
LT – Thank you!
We are very thankful to Luís for giving us this interview, and we recommend you to visit Anyforms Design’s website to get familiar with their work