Back in 2010, when we started researching and collecting examples of infographics from newsrooms all over the world, we come across the works of The Times of Oman/Al Shabiba newspapers. It immediately stroked us for the unique combination of “old school” western style of visual journalism with the colorful-artful millennial beauty of Arabic patterns and calligraphy.
Two names stood out in almost every example that we found, either on Flick, NewsPagesDesigner or Behance: Marcelo Duhalde and Antonio Farach. Both have been featured individually here on Visualoop, and it’s hard to a “This is Visual Journalism” round up go by without having at least one of Times of Oman/Al Shabiba infographics.
The following years, the awards started to pile up. Multiple Awards of Excellence and Malofiej medals, among other achievements, stand as well-deserved testimonials of the quality of the team’s work. And more recently, a stunning – and ambitious – infographic project about the 2014 FIFA World Cup has given the team led by Farach even more visibility and respect outside the journalism domain. The 3D World Cup Ball, that Antonio explains in great detail here, was, as far as we know, the most impressive visualization project about the event. Period.
In this interview, we catch up with Antonio for a more in-depth look at the work being done at Times of Oman/Al Shabiba, the challenges behind creating a high amount of quality pieces in two completely different languages, and the state of print journalism in the Middle East region.
Visualoop (VL) – Antonio, is this whole media crisis that has been crunching the newspaper industry for the past years affecting the Middle East region? Has this somehow impacted in your work?
Antonio Farach (AF) – What I know from some studies is that the newspapers in the Middle East are still growing but less than previous years. The curve is not that steep but still pointing up! I never heard about massive layoffs in the field, actually what I know is that new graphic sections are being created recently. There are many newspapers that are still reluctant to create their own infographics departments, but this is because their graphic culture hasn’t reach its apogee and not because the crisis. It’s different from Western media, which already reached that infographic consciousness.
As we know, newspapers need to evolve in other ways, through new printing techniques or new symbiotic relationships with the digital media. In our section we have the pressure to create new storytelling forms because of the Arab market. The instinct of competitions between Arabs is extraordinary, they always push for the most innovative, the most outstanding visual pieces.
Newspapers in the Middle East are still growing but less than previous years. The curve is not that steep but still pointing up! I never heard about massive layoffs in the field, actually what I know is that new graphic sections are being created recently.
VL – And tell us a bit about the work you guys do at The Times of Oman / Al Shabiba. What is it like on an average day?
AF – We started as a kind of semi-independent section providing journalistic pieces and artworks for two newspapers and several magazines. Our 6-member section belongs to the Design Department, a multinational creative team with art directors and designers who also produce their own illustrations and graphic-like products. Sometimes we embark in collaborative projects with them.
The Graphic Section’s short history
(Infographic member: x , illustrator member: +)
- April 2010: x+
- May 2010: x++
- August 2010: xxx++
- August 2011: xx+++
- February 2013: xxx+++
Although three of them have a pure-art-heart, all we are involved in the infographic production.
I receive daily requests from the all the editorial departments and assign the work to the designers. In a common day the section produce:
- Two full illustrated pages
- One editorial cartoon
- Four in-house charts
- One or two wire-graphic adaptations
- Also there are weekly assignments for magazines.
So, when big projects like the Olympics or the World Cup comes, we start to work long before and those daily works don’t stop.
One of the most recurrent challenges is the language barrier, the production time of one infographic in Arabic triples an English one. We have several methods, depends on what information we receive from the editorial, if it’s in Arabic or English, if it’s a table already or if it’s just a story from which we need to extract the data. This last is the worst nightmare when is in Arabic! Google translation can give us just a certain guidance.
Typical design process of an Arabic infographic for non-Arabic speakers:
First the sketch as if is in English, a left to right reading piece, but taking in mind how will be in Arabic, if it will work if we flip or not. From the orthodox view, some graphics works better for Arabic rather than English ones, like East-to-West route maps.
We write the content for all our big projects and for daily graphics if the editorial don’t provide. After we have the content of the graphic in English we pass it to the translators through a numbered list. While translators are doing their work we flip the entire layout in order to have a right-to-left reading, after that we need to flip individually all the text boxes and justify to the right if is the case. Once we receive back the translated list, we just copy and paste the Arabic in our already flipped graphic.
I’m proud to say that our section is pioneer in Oman. Many awards started to came after 2011: SND, Malofiej, Wan-Ifra and SPD awards. We are working for more!
In our section we have the pressure to create new storytelling forms because of the Arab market. The instinct of competitions between Arabs is extraordinary, they always push for the most innovative, the most outstanding visual pieces
VL – The volume of high quality infographics you guys have been publishing is incredible. In your opinion as the head of the team, what are the key components of such a successful output?
AF – First, we have people here who are always pushing us to produce high quality products and to innovate in new storytelling ways. Of course, not all our projects end up like we expected but we are lucky, in other newspapers, infographic sections don’t have that space.
We are two infographic editors in the section from the old western infographic school, who work with crazy artists that see infographics more as art rather than journalistic pieces. This mixture opens the opportunity to create projects that we never imagined.
VL – You recently shared with us the ‘making of’ the 3D visualization ball – arguably, the most impressive data visualization project related to the World Cup. What was the reader’s feedback from such a glamorous – and time consuming – project?
AF – Honestly, I never expected to receive the green light for this project because our readers are not that much into data visualization, but the directors said to go ahead!
Many readers and World Cup fans embarked in the task of assembling the ball at their homes. Some of them said that they finished it in two days! I also received complaints from others — “it’s too hard”. Others commented that they didn’t assemble it but they read it and that was fine for me.
Overall, it was very gratifying for me in many aspects. Many people liked it and I’m very proud of this project, everyone in the team is proud of it. Almost all the Design Department contributed with something to it. It was a very good work experience. In some moments was very painful, yes, but it was worth it.
We are two infographic editors in the section from the old western infographic school who work with crazy artists that see infographics more as art rather than journalistic pieces. This mixture opens the opportunity to create pieces that we never imagined.
VL – Apart from that amazing project, is there any other special visualization that you’d like to mention, that was particularly challenging – or fun – to develop?
AF – Yes, I’ll share a few:
The Gulf Cup is the most important football event in the Arabian peninsula. The latest tournament was in January 2013 and I was directing hot news visualizations for all the matches of the tournament. Those fifteen days were quite busy.
It is not a new way to visualize football matches but was something that I wanted to do. So I proposed the bold project and was approved. I was worried about the deadlines but we worked it well, we were three persons producing analysis charts for two matches every day. Two designers were plotting all the passes for each match and I was counting and analyzing those passes, writing those analysis and putting all together. This is one of the cases that you don’t have data so you must provide it as well!
The art of Bullfighting
This project was funny to research, we went to see the fight and there was no protective fence, you are with the bulls in the arena! We were running out from the bulls that afternoon, was very difficult to interview the judges in the arena, while looking out for bulls from any direction. The production was amusing as well because the story itself it’s so interesting.
The Great Fort of Nizwa
In terms of awards and readers’ recognition, this is the most successful graphic so far.
VL – Antonio, and what can you tell us about the infographic design and visual journalism scene in you home country, Honduras? Any particular publications that you’d recommend following?
I don’t see many data visualization in Honduras media but there is an illustrative infographic tradition, mainly in two newspapers: Tiempo and La Prensa. Tiempo was the first newspaper, in the 1900s, which had an infographic section with Luis Chavez as head of section and Jorge Gallo as reporter/designer.
I saw many designers and journalists started a career in infographics there but most of them migrated to other fields. But now there is a kind of infographic renascence. Tiempo remains the strongest in infographics.
VL – Thank you, Antonio, and keep up the inspiring work!
AF – Thank you, Tiago!
We’d like to thank Antonio for the time dedicated in answering our questions. You can keep up with the work being done at The Times of Oman/Al Shabiba newspapers by following Antonio’s updates on Behance, and you can also connect with him on LinkedIn.