In the top newsrooms, great infographics are usually the result of team work, involving different talents and various skill sets. But if we had to pick one single infographic designer that has been truly outstanding in the last couple of years – and rightfully recognized by his peers as so -, there’s no question about who it would be: Adolfo Arranz.
Now, for those who haven’t been following Visual Loop for some time, back in 2012 – just a couple of months after we launched – , we featured Adolfo’s work in the Portfolio of the Week section, in which he shared a bit of his background in visual journalism, from the early days at the regional issue of El Mundo, in Valladolid (Spain), to the exciting move to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, in 2011.
Since then, Adolfo’s work gained remarkable visibility, especially after the multi-awarded infographic “City of Anarchy”, about the Kawloon Wallled City. This piece went viral in a way that we’ve never seen before for an infographic published in a newspaper, and always with really good reviews – again, something not so common in ‘viral infographics’. Ultimately, it received all the top awards in the industry, and projected the SCMP’s infographics desk to the top of the list of references for high quality visual journalism.
We had the chance to catch up with Adolfo recently, via email, with a series of questions about his work, the recent achievements and the state of visual journalism in Asia.
Visual Loop – First of all, Adolfo, congratulations for the multiple awards in SND 35 and Malofiej 22. Were you somehow expecting such a recognition, or did it took you completely by surprise?
Adolfo Arranz (AA) – I always try to make infographics as good as I can, although I’m normally never completely satisfied with my final work. So, for me it has been a pleasant surprise to be recognized with so many awards throughout the year, I certainly did not expected that.
At the 35th edition of the Society for News Design I have received 19 awards, including a silver for my personal portfolio and a special jury recognition. In Malofiej 22 Awards, I got the gold medal for my portfolio and another gold for Kawloon Wallled City infographic, plus four bronzes by “The dead zone”, “Reaching the sky”, “Once Open a Time in Hong Kong” and “Extradition process”. And there were more awards throughout the year…
VL – And for the South China Morning Post, it was also an incredible year, right? What changed, in the graphics department, since we talked with you, a couple of years ago?
AA – Well, the graphics department of the South China Morning Post changed with the relaunch project headed by Steve Case and Simon Scarr, with the approval of the newspaper’s management. We have to fill full pages with infographics on many more issues, and we have enough development time, which corresponds to a certain quality, and that’s great. Obviously, like in any other newspaper, working time tends to be reduced to a minimum, but the important thing is that we could now do many full-page infographics.
VL – Can you tell us a bit about the day-to-day routine in the SCMP newsroom, and how the relationship between your department and the rest of the editorial staff works? Is it very different from your previous experiences, in Spain?
AA – The daily routine is as I think it is in any other medium. In my case, I divide my work between searching for topics for back pages, information research for projects that have already begun, helping with everyday graphics or artwork and then spend more time working with more ambitious projects. Overall, I’m usually involved in several tasks at once.
The relationship with other departments is excellent, and I think it has similarities to my previous experiences in Spain, but not all the same. Although you know, not all journalists and editors have the same visual education, and sometimes it’s hard to sell a project, everyone has a different perception and their own ideas … this happened in Spain too, so I do not see many differences there. The most important is that South China Morning Post believes in infographics and that’s a huge plus. The great year we had, with so many international awards, corroborates that.
The most important is that South China Morning Post believes in infographics and that’s a huge plus. The great year we had, with so many international awards, corroborates that.
VL – And besides the SCMP, is there any other publication (newspaper or magazine) from the Asia-Pacific region that has drawn your attention?
AA – I haven’t really seen many important works in the Pacific region, besides “China Daily” newspaper and some from “Inside China”. That all changes if we look to the Persian Gulf region, where the Times of Oman and the Gulf News have an important weight in the infographics field, I think now they are leaders in Asia too. I have to admit I would like to know more about what’s being done in Japan, but I haven’t seen much, perhaps it’s a work that has a more local impact and less international.
The Times of Oman and the Gulf News have an important weight in the infographics field, I think now they are leaders in Asia too.
VL – One of your most acclaimed works in 2013 was “City of Anarchy”. And we know every great infographic usually has a great “backstage story”. What’s the story behind this one?
AA – I really enjoyed doing this project, I draw like crazy for almost a month. It’s a weird graphic, at least it’s something different from what I had always done. I liked the end result.
One day I went to sketch to Kowloon Walled City Park, which is where this city for years … I was unaware of the history of this enclave. In this park, there’s a small resort with explanations of what was Kowloon Walled City, or the City of Anarchy, even a panel with a cut section of the city. Since I saw it I thought that should be the theme for a graph.
I talked to Steve Case and Simon Scarr and everything was very easy, it was the year of the anniversary of the demolition of the mad city, so it was easier to convince publishers to make this infographic. City of Anarchy has had a huge success, social networks spread it like wildfire, websites like Gizmodo helped it that … and then this infographic received several awards, gold digital graphics for the WAN-IFRA Asia Pacific , Gold in Malofiej awards, two Award of Excellence in the SND, first prize for the Press Association in Hong Kong, also a silver in the WAN-IFRA and printed graphics … And right now is also nominated for SOPA awards in Asia, but we’ll have to wait until July, 11, to see if we get that one as well.
Anyway, I can say I’m satisfied.
VL – In addition to your infographic work, you continue to draw a lot! Will we see some of that work being published – maybe in a book – one day?
AA – Yes! I spend my free time drawing and making notes in the open air, laden with watercolors, pencils any art materials … That’s precisely how I found the inspiration to do the Kowloon Walled City infographic!
In addition to being something I like doing, it’s a way of learning ‘how to look’, because when you draw and make sketches you’ll end up discovering things you would not see you if you weren’t drawing. It’s like a daily exercise. Of course I would like to publish a book with my drawings, many people ask me that, I think it’s time to do it. I have enough pieces!
VL – Great to hear that! And to close, Adolfo, to all the visual journalists out there in the beginning of their careers, any particular words of advise you’d care to share?
AA – I think the most important thing is to have passion for their work, love it, if you don’t like what you do, it will be more difficult to achieve your goals. Get involved, search for information to better understand your work, that I think is also important, to understand what you are doing or going to do. If you do not understand what you have to explain … How can you explain it?
Now with the internet and the boom of infographics and visual data, it’s easier to learn all about this exciting work – for example, have a look and study sites like Visual Loop, a good place to begin to understand and learn about visual journalism! Here you’ll find great examples!
Get involved, search for information to better understand your work, to understand what you are doing or going to do. If you do not understand what you have to explain … How can you explain it?
VL – Thanks, Adolfo, and once again, congratulations for your work!
AA – You’re welcome! Thank you, Tiago, for your interest and for giving me the opportunity to talk about my work. Cheers!
We thank Adolfo for, once again, dedicating some of his time to share his thoughts and experience with us. Don’t forget to visit his website and South China Morning Post’s online infographic gallery for more of his work, and also check out his Behance profile.