As many of you already know, at the core of Visualoop’s mission is the promotion of high-quality infographic design and the folks behind them. Since we launched this digital space, we’ve been presenting to you individual designers in our Portfolio of the Week section. But for the past years, we’ve seen the rise of new collectives, professionals that open their own companies either to take advantage of the market possibilities or, unfortunately, because that’s the only option they’re left with, after being laid off.
So, we decided to launch this special column, dedicated not to the individual designer, but to the collective; and not exclusively focused on visual journalism, but to the whole spectrum of data visualization demands, products and services. We hope to bring to you some of the top information design agencies out there, and to start, we’d like to present to you one of the finalists of this year’s Data Journalism Awards, in the category Small Newsroom Portfolio 2014–15: Kiln, a small data journalism studio working with large and small media partners and think tanks, founded by Duncan Clarke and Robin Houston.
You are probably familiar with some of the award-winning interactive works produced by Kiln, since they are regularly featured here on Visualoop and many other blogs. They also offer courses and workshops, both public and customized according to the client’s needs.
Duncan was kind enough to share a bit of the story behind Kiln, their challenges and obstacles, and what those interested in data visualization should learn.
“Kiln got up and running a few years ago as a partnership between myself (with a storytelling background in data journalism and books) and Robin Houston (with a technical background in web development and computer science). Our thinking at the time was that lots of people were doing good data journalism and lots were making fancy interactives, but few were making engaging interactive content that succeeded in actually telling a story with data.”
“The original spark which got the whole thing going was an idea I had for an interactive animated “squishy” cartogram map for a climate change data project I was working on at the Guardian. I quickly realised it was going to be impossible to make in-house at the Guardian because of the sheer complexity of the maths and coding involved. So I contacted Robin – who I had enjoyed working with at the 10:10 climate campaign – and asked if he’d be interesting in getting involved. In a couple of days he had made a working prototype. That became the basis of carbonmap.org – our first project, which we submitted to the World Bank Apps for Climate competition and also ran on the Guardian. We recently updated and resigned it. It’s now done about half a million hits.”
“Since Kiln started as a side project, the main initial obstacle was finding time to build it up between the other things we were working on (such as my book and Robin’s maths papers). We got around that one mainly just by working too many hours. But we were lucky that the amount of work coming in for Kiln was about the maximum that we could handle at any given time, so we didn’t need to turn things down or go looking for additional projects. In fact we have never really done any marketing to bring in commissions; we have found that if you create good projects interesting enough to be featured on high-traffic news websites, then more work will follow.”
Also spend some time trying thinking and reading about data visualisation – what it’s for, what makes it good or bad. We always start by making the data clear and exposing what is interesting about it, rather than making a graphic which is pretty but may make little sense to the viewer. Resist the temptation to always be led by what makes the prettiest graphic.
Of course, we cover all these things in our Kiln data visualization courses
And here are the works they shared with us (click through the image to access the interactive versions):
In flight | The Guardian
A global guide to the first world war | The Guardian
The Carbon Map
Carbon emissions: past, present and future | The Guardian
Climate change: how hot will it get in my lifetime | The Guardian
Women’s rights country by country | The Guardian
Student mobility | British Council
Urbanisation: where, why, when? | SciDev Net
How much fossil fuel has been used in your lifetime? | The Guardian
Which fossil fuel companies are most responsible for climate change? | The Guardian
Countries most exposed to the carbon bubble | The Guardian
Where on earth have you been? | The Guardian
Visit Kiln.it for a comprehensive look at their portfolio, and connect with them also on Twitter (@k_i_l_n). Also, don’t miss the list of finalists of the 2015 Data Journalism Awards, organized by the Global Editors Network.