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Infographics are like pintxos without the beer

Vincent Fung shares his thoughts about Malofiej 23 and the "Show, Don't tell" workshop

April 13, 2015

[This is a guest post by Vincent Fung*, sharing his thoughts about the 23rd Malofiej Infographics World Summit. See all the posts of our special coverage here.]

 

 

The first word that I kept hearing when I decided to go to Malofiej this year wasn’t infographics. This international meetup takes place in Pamplona, Spain where not only is it the home of the running of the bulls, but is also where the world’s best news and infographic designers come together every year for one week. With this kind of clout and aura surrounding the event, I was surprised to find that the first word that came out of most people’s mouths was “Pintxos” (pronounced ‘pin-chos’), or the local word for tapas.

Having spent the week in Pamplona for the 23rd edition of Malofiej, I now understand why pintxos was on the tip of everyone’s tongue. It’s the most common thing to eat from lunch to dinner. While I learned a lot from the speakers and the participants who also came for the week, these snacks and appetizers also enlightened me to a few things about infographics.

Can’t have pintxos without a beer | Vincent Fung

Every bar or restaurant might have their own versions or culinary specialties, but pintxos are popular because it comes down to a simple idea – a selection of bite-sized treats that can be eaten standing up or sitting down with friends or family. The clarity and simplicity of an idea is also what can make an infographic great in communicating information visually. This was the message from the Show Don’t Tell Workshop, which takes place during the first few days of Malofiej.

Visiting the Volkswagen Navarra factory for inspiration and where a Polo is made every 55 seconds. | Vincent Fung

The workshop was one of my highlights for Malofiej because it was hands-on and an opportunity to work with professionals who had backgrounds in illustration, web design, data analysis, editorial and media. It also helped that the bulk of the workshop was based on a tour of the Volkswagen Navarra factory. All the participants had an interest in learning from some of the best designers in the business (John Grimwade, Geoff McGhee, and Alberto Cairo) in developing an idea and improving the process of designing and presenting information visually. The best part of the workshop was that we spent more time with pencil and paper than with the computer, which really helped to focus on and “draw” out our ideas.

John Grimwade said it best in his presentation: “There should be a ‘sophisticated simplicity’ in an infographic. At the heart and start of an infographic is a story or idea – this comes first before the design.”

The idea of pintxos is great. Better yet is actually being able to eat them. What’s essential here is the ingredients and how they’re used. This goes the same for infographics – the basic building blocks and ingredients are data and information. It was a scary thing to hear from Matthew Swift’s presentation that he sometimes has to create visuals that aren’t based entirely on fact or information, but rather on guesswork. He wasn’t alone in this regard as his story resonated with many people at the conference. This is a challenge not only in the newsroom, but also outside the media where graphics and visuals are used to “make things pretty” rather than based on data and information.

In my line of work with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), data and visuals typically go hand-in-hand since the collection of humanitarian data and information needs to be quickly analyzed and visualized to make decisions. So when Karen Yourish from the New York Times flashed an image of one of OCHA’s reports, it was a revelation that our products aren’t only used for humanitarian planning and response, but that the media relies on it as a source of information and data for their reporting. The good news here is that OCHA is constantly developing and improving data and information management platforms to support the preparations for and response following disasters. This includes the Humanitarian Data Exchange, Humanitarian Response, and ReliefWeb.int.

At the end of the Show Don’t Tell Workshop with the instructors, from left to right, John Grimwade, Alberto Cairo, and Geoff McGhee.

I arrived in Pamplona one day before Malofiej officially started and had some pintxos alone in a bar. Pintxos tasted much better when I found others to share in the experience. And this is what makes the conference such a great event. Infographic design isn’t (or shouldn’t) be an individual activity, but one where ideas and interests can be shared. Individually everyone has his or her own unique experiences when it comes to information design and visualization, but when shared and discussed it can become more insightful. What I found interesting was that underlying all the talks and conversations, there was a recurrent theme of education. This wasn’t only about learning from one another within the infographics community, but also about educating people that infographics isn’t about making things pretty.

Ultimately visual literacy is as important as being able to read and write. Events like Malofiej are needed to educate and advocate for increasing not just the quantity, but also the quality of infographics and visual storytelling… and an opportunity to refuel on pintxos.

On a final note, if tweets were pintxos here are my favorites from each of the presentations given at Malofiej23.

 

 

*Vincent Fung works for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and is based in Geneva. He’s part of the Visual Information Unit that manages the corporate visual identity and produces and provides training on information design. Follow the Unit on Pinterest and connect with Vincent on Twitter.

Written by Tiago Veloso

Tiago Veloso is the founder and editor of Visualoop and Visualoop Brasil . He is Portuguese, currently based in Bonito, Brazil.

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