Less than a month from now, the 23rd edition of the Malofiej Summit and Awards will begin, welcoming, once more, the elite of infographic design and all of those fortunate enough to attend it. And once more, the programme includes a stellar line-up of speakers for the two-day conference, and preceding it, the “Show, don’t tell” workshop, which will be conducted by infographic designers and visual journalists Alberto Cairo, John Grimwade, Geoff McGhee and Juan Velasco.
In advance of our special coverage of Malofiej 23 – which, by the way, we’ll be attending -, we asked a few question to one of the persons behind the success of the “Oscars of infographic design”. Javier Errea is a journalist based in Pamplona, with a degree in Information Science from the University of Navarra and post-graduate studies from the University of South Florida and The Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
Javier occupied several editorial positions in Spanish newspapers such as the “Diario de Navarra”, “Diario de Noticias” and the “Heraldo de Aragón”, before opening his own company, Errea Comunicación, where he offers a wide range of services for the media industry. He is currently Associate Professor of Editing and Projects at the University of Navarra, president of the Spanish Chapter of the Society for News Design and director of SND to Mediterranean Europe – plus, he’s the coordinator of the Malofiej Conference.
With such a busy schedule, finding the time to answer our Malofiej-first-time-visitors questions is something we are truly grateful to Javier, and we hope you enjoy the following interview as much we did.
Visualoop (VL) – Javier, we have witnessed incredible changes in the newspaper industry, in the past twenty years. How have these changes impact an event like Malofiej, now in its 23rd edition?
Javier Errea (JE)- Indeed, the changes have been gigantic. The industry is completely different. When Malofiej started, in the early 1990s, newspapers were very profitable and with an unquestionable strength. Their influence was enormous. They had power. Today, the industry is much weaker and lives in a constant, harmful, climate of uncertainty.
However, I wouldn’t say that these changes had, or will have, a particular impact in this edition of Malofiej, number 23. The influence of these dramatic changes affecting the industry is not something that comes suddenly. And infographics are an important journalistic genre, even essential, I would say. The way the crisis is affecting graphics desks around the world has more to do with the limited resources than the importance – or not – of the gender itself.
VL – This reminds us of a (provocative) article you wrote in 2008 (“Why infographics save journalism“, in Spanish); seven years later, do you still believe infographics can save journalism?
JE – Titles are just titles. They exist to provoke. That article caught a lot of attention because the title was provocative. I wish I had a magic wand to predict the future, or to find wonderful solutions to a crisis. I don’t. What I meant then, and I hold today, is that infographics are a modern language, regardless of platforms. Readers and users and information consumers in general, are demanding infographics. If we extend some of the characteristics of infographics to newspapers, like the way to tell stories, maybe we can find some opportunities out there.
However, the main problem still has to do with the business model.
VL – As for your personal involvement in the organization of Malofiej, can you share with our readers the story of how that happened?
JE – Well, like most things in life, it happened in an almost casual manner. I was associate professor of the School of Communication at the University of Navarra, my predecessor left the University and therefore opened a vacancy. The Spanish Chapter of the Society for News Design was created almost 25 years ago associated with the University of Navarra, and has always been managed from within the university. It has an autonomy that other regional chapters don’t have. They proposed it and I accepted. As we all known, the Malofiej awards and Summit are directly linked to the SNDE and the University of Navarra. I am not an infographic designer, but I don’t think that’s a problem. What it was clear in my mind is that Malofiej should become the most important infographic event in the world.
Until my arrival, the event had a markedly Spanish accent; I’ve tried to internationalize it as much as possible, and I think we succeeded: in fact, over 90% of the participants come from countries outside Spain and 90% of the speakers in the programme are native English speakers. Something similar happens with the entries to the contest. Not everyone understood and shared our view, but it seems to me that this has been tremendously positive for the prestige Malofiej has today.
VL – Now, the decision to open your own agency, Errea Comunicación, was it something motivated by the force of circumstances, or was a strategic decision, anticipating changes that the market is experiencing now?
JE – No, no, nothing like that. As I said before, things happen due to a series of circumstances. There’s almost never strategic decisions. At least, for me, I don’t live that way. It’s more like one’s surviving, actually. And as life goes, we make decisions. In my case, I was deputy director of a major regional newspaper in Spain, I left the newspaper and I had to find a way to live. That was ten years ago. The same with the profile of our company, it is constantly changing and adjusting to the changing needs and demands of our customers.
I come from print journalism. But our company now works with at least as many digital projects for media as in print. I have always said that what matters is not to be first. This obsession is ridiculous. Better to stay a little behind, learn a lot, and then work with professionalism. Today we feel equally comfortable in print and digital projects. And newspaper companies increasingly look to us to implement projects with different characteristics and for different platforms: desktop, mobile, tablets, apps … Maybe we are not that much recognized for that work, but that’s the way it is.
VL – Considering all the experience that you and your team have accumulated, working with so many publications from countries like Greece, Portugal, Spain and Brazil, among others, what are the main features and ideal competences of an art department / modern infographic department?
JE – It’s not easy to say. Actually, it’s all about combining skills, profiles, and extract the maximum performance. It is clear that in a modern infographics department must have professional with artistic skills, people who can draw. It is equally clear that there must be people with journalistic sensitivity and skills. It can be all within the team, or just part of the team … If they are all part of team, great!. But journalistic “muscle” can’t be left out – something that has been lacking in many infographic departments. And finally, technical skills, in order to operate naturally into the digital realm.
It is not necessary to have all of them; but the more you have, the better. Because a better understanding of the limitations and opportunities of technology will, ultimately, let you express things in different ways. Technology changes so fast that is almost impossible to keep up with the latest. Either you are a “tech freak”, or it’s impossible. So you must become the freak…
VL – One of the questions we asked Chiqui Esteban, a couple of years ago, was about the possible reasons behind the impressive quality of infographic design being done in Spain – almost like a “school”, with an aesthetic identity that has consolidated itself, and expanded throughout the world. We would like to pose now the same question to you.
JE – Ah! This question is quite tricky. You see, I don’t believe there is a Spanish school of infographic design. In fact, there is no place where you can learn it. No schools or universities that are strong in this. I believe that, as always, it’s a matter of people. Certain people, with specific skills and leadership abilities, that have made it. Around them, teams were built, teams that grew, won awards. And immediately drew attention.
Why so many, at the same time, and from a country without tradition? I honestly don’t know. Maybe it had something to do with the “boom” of editorial design, that happened at around the same time infographics started to make their way in our country. The University of Navarra was, from the late eighties to the early nineties, a permanent focus of seminars, with travels, visits and professionals gathering around the Spanish Chapter of the SND, which had just been created. It coincided with the Barcelona Olympic Games, and the arrival of computers in the newsroom. The Apple Macintosh was then a revolution. There were some folks, visionaries, who saw the great opportunities that came along, and took the lead. I can’t explain it better.
And it’s not true that there is an aesthetic identity: each designer, each publication took a different direction. You can’t compare what Jaime Serra was doing with what was proposed by El Mundo and El Pais. El Correo’s infographics, with a warmer, hand-drawn style, can be explained by people like Javier Zarracina and Fernando Baptista, today both in the United States. So, there are many styles, not just one. And today, this famous “school” is a bit dismantled, scattered. The crisis has affected many of the publications that were responsible fo the best infographics. There are neither the publications, nor the editorial space. Media companies are not well. And many, many professionals have emigrated. The list is very long – starting with Chiqui Esteban himself.
VL – Malofiej plays a decisive role in the dissemination of visual journalism, both in Spain and the world. For those who are now starting to learn about infographics and editorial design, can share some of the key moments in the history of the event?
JE – It’s hard to point out two or three key moments. For example, the decision to rotate the jury every year was important, to give credibility to the competition. Before it wasn’t like that. It was a wise decision. Also, the pursue for the internationalization of the event. So the most important publications of the world are always present: “The New York Times”, “The Guardian”, “The Washington Post”, “Corriere della Sera”, the major Brazilian newspapers, “La Nación” and “Clarín” in Argentina, the best dailies from northern Europe … even Asian newspapers.
Another important decision, more recently, was to widen the focus to include infographics submitted by professionals outside journalism. This is a bit difficult, because Malofiej was born from journalism, and cannot – and should not – lose that focus. But that doesn’t mean we should not be paying attention to what others are doing. This addition to the program and to the jury … has been a loaf of fresh air. I think it has enriched us all.
VL – Finally, Javier, why shouldn’t we miss Malofiej 23?
JW – This year’s programme is excellent. The combination of professionals from traditional news media and from other fields is fantastic. We’ll even have Richard Wurman, one of the myths of information architecture, author of dozens of books, a regular TED speaker … Wurman, at 80 years old, wanted to come to Malofiej, and that for us is something to be proud of.
In addition, Jaime Serra is setting up a wonderful interactive installation, and the University of Navarra has just opened its Art Museum, a building by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rafael Moneo which contains a wonderful collection of contemporary paintings, including works by Picasso, Rothko or Tápies, among others, and one of the best collection of pictorial photography and calotypes in the world. The opening of the Malofiej congress will be in the Museum.
VL – Sounds amazing! Thank you, Javier, and we’ll see you in Pamplona!
JE – Thank you.