Exclusive conversations about infographics and data-vizualization
This interview was made by Marco Vergotti, infographic editor at Época magazine, Brazil.
My participation in the interviews section of Visual Loop started from an invitation that Tiago made after we had many conversations about the quantity and quality of the infographics produced here in Brazil. In my opinion, we’re very close to be a major reference, as Spain and the USA, and we have great professionals with great works already published and awarded.
We’ve explored many different aesthetic and journalistic styles, some works were great and others not so much but that’s part of the creation process. I think there’s no point on whining so much about works that didn’t work out because we will always have another opportunity. Today, infographics have a guaranteed space within the newsrooms and we also know that its relevance extends into the advertising market and begins to make more room in the corporate world.
This interview is also an attempt to guide design and journalism students who are interested in infographics to draw a path within the visual journalism. Brazil already has information on the subject, but still very limited, compared to the market out there, and I think we need to encourage publications aimed at the Brazilian market as a means of guidance for teaching and dissemination of this discipline. Some initiatives are already yielding good results, like the case of Infolide, which every year organizes workshops and lectures on infographics in addition to having an exhibition of what’s being produced in Brazilian media.
To understand the current state of infographic design in Brazil, I talked with Professor Tattiana Teixeira, who has a Masters in Communication and Contemporary Culture from the Universidade Federal da Bahia. She’s currently a teacher at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC) and the author of the book Infografia e Jornalismo: conceitos, análises e perspectivas (“Infographics and Journalism: concepts, analysis and trends”, available only in Portuguese), published in 2010.
Marco Vergotti (MV) – How did you discovered infographics?
Tatiana Teixeira (TT) – I’ve always loved infographics, but from an academic standpoint, I became interested in them when I started teaching regularly disciplines related to the production in research nucleus, in the early 2000s. It was at this time that the lack of subjects or books that discuss the infographics caught my attention. Then, when I finished my Ph.D., I adopted the infographics as an object of study and it’s been my passion since then.
(MV) – And what prompted your interest in this kind of journalistic language?
(TT) – Well…. When I started orientating the production of newspapers in the university research lab, I realized that academically speaking there was, in general, a lack of connection between the so called text production and visual journalism, something that we know ends up repeating in most newsrooms, in a false dichotomy between ‘text journalists’ x ‘visual journalists’. But it was when we created in Salvador a newspaper devoted entirely to science journalism that the need to invest in infographics became clear and the partnership with some colleagues was essential for that experimentation. It allowed greater risks, such as investing in producing infographics. From that point on, I had no doubt: this would be the object of my research and I’ve dedicated a lot of time to them in most disciplines I’ve taught since. I haven’t regretted so far.
(MV) – And how was the production of those works in the Journalism laboratory?
(TT) – We tried to simulate a newsroom, in order to provide an environment for the discussion between teams to reach the end result, in this case, an infographic. In UFSC, we had Journalism and Design students working together and this was essential to overcome together the challenges posed. Students were faced with unique experiences that forced decision making and, more than that, understanding the importance of both their specific job and, at the same time, the whole. We had conflicts, of course, but they were essential to that discussion of the importance of interdisciplinary work.
(MV) – In your book, you propose a classification system of infographics using a ‘class model’. What led you to develop this model?
(TT) – In the bibliography available at the NUPEJOC (Scientific Journalism Research Nucleus at the University of Santa Catarina), we realized that there were many classifications, most of them linked to elements present or absent in an infographic. My concern has always been with a class model that could help future journalists and designers to produce infographics news not so much from specific elements, but from a proposal, a guide that can conduct the work, and somehow aid in the dialogue within newsrooms. Until we came up with the proposal that is in the book, we did some tests and try to apply it to several different examples. I think the proposed model can still be improved – and I hope that happens – but from the experience in the classroom, I think it helps even those without experience in the field to better understand the importance of infographics for journalistic products. If so, I hope that in the future new generations of infographic designers also apply it in their day to day work to facilitate communication with reporters and editors.
(MV) – You’ve been studying the history of infographics in Brazil since the 80s. How do you see the evolution and the present moment?
(TT) – I think we evolved a lot from the point of view of technical resources which reduced – a lot – the production time of an infographic, even the most rudimentary. This means that, in terms of quantity, we have advanced over the years, with the increasing presence of infographics in newspapers and, more recently, data visualization of all kinds.
However, the narrative structure of infographics remains basically the same, as well as the guidelines and uses. For example, in 1992 we created – with the help of student Lucas Pasqual – an infographic on Estadão explaining how their newsroom worked. The base is practically the same as those seen published less than two years ago in national magazines such as Saúde! or Superinteressante. In the more recent works, of course, we have more details, intense use of colors, more elaborate designs, but the idea is still the same. There are others, from the 80s, about some scientific discoveries or technological innovations, that today would be much different, but more in terms of the benefits provided by the new technologies than for the sake of “progress” in the broadest sense.
Is this a problem? I don’t think so, especially since we see progress in other areas, like data visualization, that is improving every day – even if we still need a bit more clarity on the “to whom “is this kind of information design intended to. Let me explain: in the case of infographics, the need of a certain educational purpose seems to be consensual, while in data visualization it’s not uncommon to see the use of resources that complicate the understanding of the context behind the data, rather than facilitating it.
In the case of infographics, what worries me is that this comfort zone – which was reached after many years of experimentation and risk – obtained in print seems to dictate the rules for tablets and other newer media platforms. Overall, infographics still seem to be designed for a platform and adapted to another – which happens even in some examples produced for television – and this is something troubling.
We need to take more risks, because each platform has its own characteristics and we need to understand them, although, of course, technology is evolving at an amazing speed and inside the newsrooms there’s not much space – and time – for that trial and error process. That’s why I strongly believe that universities – especially journalism and design courses – should take the lead in producing research labs to think of innovation as a premise, with the production of infographics for different platforms, readers and realities.
I strongly believe that universities – especially journalism and design courses – should take the lead in creating research labs to think of innovation as a premise, with the production of infographics for different platforms, readers and realities.
(MV) – About the ‘clarity’ to which you just referred, does the Brazilian reader understands what an infographic is, is he comfortable with it?
(TT) – I believe so. So much so that, back in 2000, the readers complained a lot when Superinteressante decreased the use of infographics. Recent reforms in the newspapers have prioritized the use of infographics. So, I think there are strong indications that readers may not only know the concept, but recognize the resource as something important. And, of course, there are publications that are totally identified with infographics, like Mundo Estranho. In these ones, the recognition from the audience is even greater.
(MV) – In Brazil, there are few publications and courses for this field. Why does this happen?
(TT) – I think it’s a combination of several factors. Rafael Alves, a student who defended his dissertation last week here at UFSC, proved this reality from an deep survey, comparing the journalism training in Brazil and Spain.
In our case, there’s an historical lack of appreciation of what recently has been called “visual journalism”. Most journalism courses have traditionally, at most, 10% of their workload designed to disciplines such as Graphic Production, Publishing, Semiotics or Infographics. News Design is an expression almost nonexistent in both Journalism and Design courses.
Naturally, it became a vicious circle – if the field is not valued in college, few professionals seek out these areas, those who go rarely turn to an academic career, and when they do, they can’t always discuss infographics at a deeper level simply because there aren’t disciplines focused on this. The loop is closed. Again, the university must change its perspective because the market – at least in big cities, not only in Brazil but in other countries – is becoming increasingly convinced that News Design is fundamental, not only to attract readers, but to improve their relationship with the journalistic products, in the broad sense.
Fortunately, at least in postgraduate courses, we have seen more people studying infographics – this is a good sign.
News Design is an expression almost nonexistent in both Journalism and Design courses.
(MV) – In your opinion, is there a ‘Brazilian infographic school’?
(TT) – What I see when I compare our work with that of other countries is that, although in the case of ‘hardnews’ it follows established models – for obvious reasons that have to do with production time and type of theme / agenda -, the same not always occurs when discussing themes that allow the adoption of differentiated resources.
In this sense, It catches my attention the use of humor, and we have some good examples of an infographic about the drug trade in the favelas that, despite the hard issue, has taken the humor/irony approach, similar to those found in some works from Nigel Holmes, for example. The infographic about the sex change surgeries, also from SuperInteressante, is another example of how we use the irreverence in the right dose in producing infographics and, finally, a mention to Playboy’s infographic explaining the parties organized by Italian Prime-Minister Silvio Berluscony – it also reveals this ability of ours to blend humor, irreverence and innovation to deal with different subjects.
These features appear in different works of different professionals – although here I have quoted two of Luiz Iria – and indicate that there is, if not a unique ‘infographic school’ in the classic sense of the term, at least a set of influences that are repeated over time. The way of narrating is also very characteristic, and another feature that strikes me is the absence of excesses, details that can be superfluous. But I think it’s time for systematizing it. I believe that characterize this “school” can be a nice challenge for those interested in infographics.
(MV) – In the case of the Playboy’s ‘Buga-Buga’ infographic, some might say that it’s not infographic design, but Art. What do you think about that?
(TT) – One does not exclude the other, in my opinion. We can have infographics more or less complex, elaborated, this is something natural. Aside from that, we need to understand the publication’s editorial proposal An infographic for Playboy magazine doesn’t have to follow the same graphic or anesthetic logic as one for Mundo Estranho or even for a daily newspaper. Not to mention that if we stat discussing what is Art, that separation becomes even more complex…
(MV) – And what are the main references infographic designers in Brazil follow
(TT) – Today’s infographic production is influenced by the pioneers in the field, names like Gerson Mora, Léo Tavejnhansky, Mario Kanno, Ary Moraes, Luiz Iria…. In the 80s, the influences of newspapers such as the USA Today, The New York Times or professionals like Nigel Holmes were obvious. There’s also a big influence of what is produced by the NYT – especially in terms of data visualization – and in Spanish publications. But we already have an identity, very specific, which sometimes makes it difficult to specify who influences whom.
(MV) – Do you believe that someday we will be a reference?
(TT) – Honestly, I think we already are. We export infographics to publications from other countries, we have a fairly significant recognition. I dare to say that we might not be unanimously recognized yet, but the work developed in Brazil surely influences infographic designers from other countries.
I dare to say that we might not be unanimously recognized yet, but the work developed in Brazil surely influences infographic designers from other countries.
(MV) – Thanks, Tattiana!
(TT) – Thank you!
We’d like to thank profª Tattiana for sharing her thoughts and experience with us. You can follow her updates on Twitter (@tattiana).