There was a time, not so long ago, when infographics were presented on the Internet just by a handfull of bloggers. It was a time before marketers and SEO agencies discovered the link-building power of visual representation of information, and therefore, a time when the press infographics ruled, and could be found at places like Infographic News, the online home of Spanish visual journalist and infographic designer Chiqui Esteban.
His online presence and career made him one of the most recognizable names in the field. Since 2009, he was working as Digital Narratives Director at lainformacion.com, besides being a Consultant at Innovation Media Consulting. Now, set to embrace a new challenge in the Boston Globe, Chiqui talked with us about his career, the rise of Spain in the infographic scence and his online projects, including his blog and the World Map of Infographic Journalists.
Visual Loop (VL) – Your professional background is somehow associated with the Malofiej Awards, isn’t it? Tell us a bit about how that happen?
CE – I studied journalism a the Universidad de Navarra, the home of the Malofiej Awards. And I did it because I already knew I wanted to become an infographics journalist, so Navarra was the best option. I was part of the staff of the Malofiej, helping the jury with translations and also with the SDT workshops people. It was great, because every year I could hear from some of the greatest names of the graphics world talking about what makes an infographic good or bad, and why they liked some over the others. And looking over hundreds of the best works of the world every year. That helped me a lot.
VL – And how do you feel about the evolution of the Malofiej Awards, since you first had contact wih the event? Any particular change or new trend you’ve noticed?
CE – I think Javier Errea and Álvaro Gil are doing a terrific job. Malofiej keeps the same spirit and they have adapted it to the new times in a great way. I think is the best graphics event all around the world and where every infographics journalist want to be. Of course, there are controversies. But this is the same since the beginning. When you give awards, you know there will be people complaining.
VL – On a global context, Spain has become something like an ‘infographic superpower’, with names like Alberto Cairo, Jaime Serra and others (besides you) being recognized as references in the field and inspiring a new generation of information designers. What’s behind this success?
CE – Thanks, I won’t place myself yet among those names. I hope some day I will, and I try to learn more everyday for it, but you’re talking great names. I do not know exactly why Spain is so strong, but I have my own theories. In the latest 80s a newspaper was born in Spain: El Mundo. They tried to be very visual, with a great design and graphics. And it was a huge success. So everybody wanted to be like them and newsroom started looking for people capable of doing graphics. By the first Iraq war, spanish newspapers covered it with double-spread infographics, color, and a powerful intention to make visual information. So there is a great generation there. And they were the best teachers for the next generation. And then arrived the digital era. And the name there was Mario Tascón, a former infographics editor of El Mundo (again) who took the leadership creating the first website of El Mundo and thinking how graphics could be adapted to digital. Soon he moved to El País and did the same thing. And we had the two first online graphics departments of the world: El Mundo with Alberto Cairo leading and El país with Rafa Höhr and Christian Werb.
I do not know exactly why Spain is so strong, but I have my own theories. In the latest 80s a newspaper was born in Spain: El Mundo. They tried to be very visual, with a great design and graphics. And it was a huge success.
VL – The Internet was a game-changer for the newspaper industry. Many are still trying to understand how to fit in this new information consumption reality, and some simply didn’t survive. What are the key components to embrace this digital world, and what examples can you give us where that transition was successful?
CE – I don’t know the future. And maybe is still too soon to say we have completed the digital transition. But its obvious that internet provide us more tools to explain news: video, animation, interaction, no limit of paper, the possibility to update… And infographics people are used to handle different kinds of tools, used to be the vanguard of the innovation in newsrooms, so they have adopted all those tools to create visual pieces, more complete than simple texts. I think people coming from graphics departments adopted much better the digital thinking than writers (of course, this is not an absolut at all). Now we have many places to receive information. Explaining it visually is a big difference to tell people: ‘Hey, everybody is telling the same thing. We want to explain it, not just tell. And we got all the possible tools to do it better than just a text, a tweet or a video”. But we cannot forget that, sometimes, a text, a tweet or a video could be better than a graphic.
Infographics people are used to handle different kinds of tools, used to be the vanguard of the innovation in newsrooms, so they have adopted all those tools to create visual pieces, more complete than simple texts.
VL – Infographics News has its place among the top data visualization blogs and sites in the World. How important it has been for you, both professionally as personally, to maintain that web presence?
CE – I have to start writing again. The last months I’ve been really busy and I have abandoned it for a while, but I will never let it go completely. It has been very important for me, it has helped me to know lots of people, obligated me to be aware of what was happening around the world of graphics. So it is like studying, like being back to my time as student helping at the Malofiej: watching lots of graphics, hearing opinions from everybody… learning.
VL – The World Map of Infographic Journalists is quite an interesting initiative. Tell us a bit about that project.
CE – Another thing I should retake. The Map was much bigger, but it was completely open, so anybody could add himself to the map. One day, someone deleted all the content. So everything was lost. I tried to rebuild it, and I am on that yet. So I would appreciate everybody sending me their data to update the map…
I wanted it to be like a meeting place. The Jumping Jester (the famous pub where everybody gathers at Malofiej) of the web. Many infographics journalists ike to visit other departments when they travel. This could be a good guide to know who’s who and where’s everybody.
We want to explain it, not just tell. And we got all the possible tools to do it better than just a text, a tweet or a video. But we cannot forget that, sometimes, a text, a tweet or a video could be better than a graphic.
VL – And now, a new challenge in the U.S.! How excited are you about this, and what can you tell us about the work you’ll be doing in the Boston Globe?
CE – Well, I’m still waiting for the work visa, so fingers crossed! I’m really excited. The Boston Globe is one of the world best places to do journalism, and they have an incredible graphics team, lead by someone I admire since I was that student at Malofiej, Javier Zarracina. Apart of that, the general design, the technological approach and the way they work with graphics is revolutionary. One of the most exciting places to be right now, in my opinion. Their approach to information, rigorous but different, innovative but classic at the same time is what any infographics journalist (or at least me) would love to do.
VL – Thank you very much, Chiqui!
CE – Thank you very much to you Tiago!
We really appreciate Chiqui took the time to give us this interview, and wish him all the success in Boston. Visit his portfolio and follow his blog to know more about his work, and feel free to connect with him on Twitter.