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Talking with... Luiz Iria

One of the World's most recognized infographic designers talks about his new professional challenge

August 27, 2013
(foto:Luiz Iria)
(photo:Luiz Iria)

Among all the talented Brazilian visual journalists, few are so well-known around the world as Luiz Iria. His role in the growing use of infographics in magazines has no equal in the country, and during the almost two decades he worked at Editora Abril, he inspired and influenced a whole generation of young designers and journalists with the infographics published in SuperInteressante and Mundo Estranho, just to mention two of the most recognized – and awarded – publications in Brazil.

Luiz decided to follow a career in illustration thanks to the likes of Frank Miller e John Byrne – if you’re a comic books fan, they don’t need introduction. In the early 1990s, his was already working as a freelancer for SuperInteressante magazine, being later promoted to a permanent position. In 1995, his journey into the world of information design began, never to stop again.

Now, facing a new challenge in his professional career, Luiz was kind enough top share with us his thoughts about information design an visual journalism in Brazil in this exclusive interview.

Visual Loop (VL) – Luiz, is it possible to measure the importance of the work done by the Infographics Department of Editora Abril in the growth of infographics in Brazilian publications? Because, today, the country is praised as a reference in infographic and editorial design, but it wasn’t always like that, right?

Luiz Iria (LI) – The use of infographics in Editora Abril’s publications really started back in 1995, when Eugênio Bucci, Superinteressant’s Chief Editor, brought in great names of visual journalism from Spain for a series of workshops and presentations. That was the moment I decided I wanted to do infographics. I was amazed by the work being done by “El Mundo”.

After 10 years working at SuperInteressante, I realized that the magazine didn’t need me anymore to create infographics. And I noticed that several other publications inside Editora Abril had the potential to use this form of visual communication, they just needed someone to show them the way. So, with the support of Dr. Roberto Civita and Thomaz Souto Correa, the Editora Abril’s Infographic department was created in 2005. In the begining, it was only me, but I had the liberty to go inside newsrooms, offering guidance to editors, reporters and designers on how they could ‘think infographically”.

It wasn’t easy, but after two years of intense work, Editora Abril won 15 medals in a single edition of Malofiej, with five different magazines. I was involved in 14 of those.

From that point on, infographics spread throughout all of Abril’s publications and today the company is recognized all over the world for the excellence of its works in titles like Superinteressante, Mundo Estranho, Veja, Saúde, Nova Escola, Aventuras na História, among others. I am very happy that I was a part of all that.

VL – It all started with SuperInteressante, in 1995, with the famous Martial Arts series. You’ve probably told this story dozens of times, but can you share it with us more time?

LI – After the Spanish left, I decided to create a series about the martial arts practiced in Brazil, the origins, the differences between each one and the main moves and strikes. At that time I was practicing Taekwondo, I’m a big fan of martial arts, so that inspired me a lot.

What I wasn’t expecting was the resistance from the magazine’s editors. They unanimously said that martial arts wasn’t the kind of topic the reader was interested in, and even after three meetings with them, I wasn’t able to ‘sell’ the idea.

I didn’t quit, and I took upon myself o create several layouts, trying to show how the series would look like. I then went straight to to the Chief Editor, Eugênio Bucci – and that’s when I learned how to pitch an infographic project. Not only with words, but with images.

I managed to get nine pages to work on (I wanted 10), and after that it was all nice and fun, because it was my chance to develop something I believed a lot. It took several interviews, over 500 photos and hundreds of illustrations until the project was published.

Eugénio was so happy with the result that he decided to send me to Pamplona, to participate in that year’s Malofiel. Listening to some of the greatest infographic designers in the world, with only two years in my career, that was something truly wonderful. But the best was yet to come.

In the award ceremony, the special series “Golpes de Mestre” won the gold medal in the Sports category, and I was there to receive it in person. It was a magic moment, I saw all my hard work being rewarded.

This series also won the ‘Prêmio Abril de Jornalismo’ and was published in Europe and the U.S. After that, all the doors were open and the use of infographics in Editora Abril’s publications never stopped again.

Golpes de Mestre', infographic series by Luiz Iria for SuoperInteressante magazine
(‘Golpes de Mestre’, infographic series by Luiz Iria for SuoperInteressante magazine)

VL – Besides that project, any others that you’re particularly fond of? Or perhaps one that was harder than most to create?

LI – “Montado na Fúria”, a 10-pages special explaining the main competitions in a rodeo, “Tráfico na Favela”, about drug trafficking in the slums and how the police should fight it, and “Mundo Árvore”, showing the ecosysetm arouns a single tree, are some of the most memorable works in my career, together “As sete maravilhas do mundo”, a series of infographics bout the world’s seven wonders, and “A Evolução do Futebol”, ten infographics explaining how soccer evolved.

'Montado na Fúria', infographic series by Luiz Iria and Alceu Chiesorin Nunes for SuperInteressante magazine (1998)
‘Montado na Fúria’, infographic series by Luiz Iria and Alceu Chiesorin Nunes for SuperInteressante magazine (1998)


They all have their level of difficulty, but one of the latest infographics I was involved with (and one that won a medal at Malofiej 21), was the one about the 100 years of the Titanic’s shipwreck. This was particularly hard because, besides the three double-pages in the magazine, we had to develop a version for tablets in a very short amount of time.

Tragédia Titânica, infográfico da Mundo Estranho
Tragedy of the Titanic, bronze medal at Malofiej 21 | Mundo Estranho magazine


That was when I could feel the potential that infographics have in the Digital Age, through animation, programming and interactivity. I hope I’ll have another chance to do more of this type of project in this new stage of my career.

VL – You often mention comic books and scif-fi films as sources of inspiraion for your illustrations. How do you manage to incorporate these elements in visual journalism without falling into the error of shifting the focus away from the information or leaving the infographic too ‘decorated’?

It was something that I learned over the years. I was always very attracted by the visual impact, so my first infographics were more focused on ‘decoration’. Some of my work files in .psd have over 900 layers. Perfectionism and attention to all the details has always been a trademark in my infographics.

With time, experience, and learning from other great professionals, I managed to find the right balance between image and information, without compromising the visual and emotional impact that I bring to most of my infographics.

With time, experience, and learning from other great professionals, I managed to find the right balance between image and information, without compromising the visual and emotional impact that I bring to most of my infographics.


VL – In his book ‘The Functional Art”, Alberto Cairo refers to your work as a style of infographics that works very well in a certain type of editorial context, like in the case of SuperInteressante and Mundo Estranho. But you were involved in several other magazines published by Editora Abril, many with different audiences. Can you gives us an overview about the work you did in those publications?

LI – The possibilities and styles of infographic design are endless. We had the John Grimwade phase, with his impeccable work with vectors that amazed an inspired thousands of infographics designers all over the world. Then, we had Jaime Serra, with a more conceptual and artistic style, and his works are true masterpices, and the great Alberto Cairo, with whom I had the pleasure to work with in a much more sober infographic, in terms of visual appeal, but more rational in the sense of how to properly transmit information using infographics and data visualization.

Superinteressante, known today in Brazil as the ‘infographics magazine”, uses all those styles. Exame magazine, being a a business-orientated publication, makes use of a simpler graphic language, using traditional graphs and charts, because that’s what the readers need and appreciate.

For Arquitetura e Construção, we used both 3D and simple illustrations to show architectural schematics. And in Saúde magazine, you’ll find again several different styles and creative analogies being used to explain what’s happening with our body.

Honestly, for what I’ve experienced during my 18 years working with infographics, I can say that all the possibilities that infographic design offers can be used in every kind of publication. It’s just a matter of having the right topic at the right time.

I made a realistic infographic together with the fantastic illustrator Sattu for the Viva Mais magazine, one of Abril’s weekly publications. No one ever thought on using something like that in a low/middle-class magazine. No way.

However, the topic in hand was the menstrual cycle, and the work was a huge success, achieving a 96% approval rate among the female readers who answered a survey about the infographic. Immediately after that, we made another one in the same style about what happens to a woman’s hair from birth to old age. These two works were also adapted for the Internet and published in the M de Mulher portal, getting around 300 thousand pageviews in four weeks.

We will only find out if a certain food is good if we try it, right? It’s the same thing with infographics. Just look at what happened with the martial arts series. Considered at the begining as an absurd topic, it became a milestone inside SuperInteressante and opened the door for the use of infographics in Editora Abril’s publications.

All the possibilities that infographic design offers can be used in every kind of publication. It’s just a matter of having the right topic at the right time.

VL – The changes around the news industry keep happening at an incredible pace, with many of those changes causing newsrooms to shut down and journalists being fired. What are your thoughts about this current situation?

LI – The drop in sales and advertising revenue caused a general negativity and overall concern about the future of editorial and publishing companies. That’s something that is happening not only in Brazil but also in the rest of the world. The editorial market is going through a hard time trying to avoid further losses in the long term. That’s a fact that must be faced once and for all. The future is digital, and there’s no turning back.

The most troubling part is to know how to invest (and how much) in this new digital age. When you go to a newsstand you already know what you’re going to buy. In the digital, especially with tablets, the adapted version of the magazine or newspaper has to compete with millions of other possibilities, at a global scale. Not to mention those professionals who can’t adapt themselves to digital. It’s really a very delicate time, and any bad decision can put everything to lose.

Content and creativity, in my opinion, will be the the two vital factors for the future of editorial and digital communication. A product with quality, interactivity, dynamism and visual excellence may just be the only hope for publishers. Therefore, they must be extremely careful when deciding to leave highly qualified professionals sleep through their fingers, professionals that can clearly make a difference in today’s extreme competitiveness environment we’re living in.

The editorial market is going through a hard time trying to avoid further losses in the long term. That’s a fact that must be faced once and for all. The future is digital, and there’s no turning back.

VL – Crisis in the editorial, and increasing demand in the corporate environment. What are the main challenges an infographic designer that comes out of a newsroom faces when he has to begin serving companies?

LI – When I took over the Infographics Department at Abril, I started to realize that the use of this language could go beyond the print magazines. In such a big company such as Abril, you need to show your employees how certain departments work, and other important aspects of the working environment.

How to create an effective presentation without making it too long and boring? How does the internal mailing system works? What are the steps necessary to aprove a candidate for a job opening? In case of fire, what are the safest exits and to proceed? How to explain a change in the technology used by the company?

I made myself these and many other questions and I figure I could help even more with my work. So, I developed several campaigns for the Human Resources department and others, used infographics for internal events, and with all that I expanded the working opportunities for me and my team.

To observe and to question is a path that can led you to see opportunities where other people can’t.

VL – This leads us to the inevitable question: Given the avalanche of illustrations, posters and other images that are published on the Internet as ‘infographics’, how can true infographics be valued?

LI – Find out who are the best infographic designers of today, globally, and seek to know their biography, work and professional experience. This can be an interesting way, especially for those who do not know the general concepts of information design.

Once you’ve done that, you will be able to separate very well what is a true infographic from the millions of possibilities that you find on the internet. I learned a lot doing it this way.

VL – And what other advises would you give for those readers out there interested in following a career in infographic design

LI – Get a degree in Journalism, attend an Art School and stay up to date to what’s happening in the world. These are important ingredients to become an infographic designer.

And like I said, learn about the great infographic designers, study Art History and keep an eye for the new tech/editorial trends, that will also help a lot.

VL – An enviable record of journalism and Infographics awards, international recognition, participation in events, lectures and workshops and countless mentions on the Internet, in magazines and in books. Looking at all this, what are your thoughts about your own career so far, and what other challenges are you preparing to face in the future?

LI –  Loved this question. I can sum it all just by saying “I love what I do”. When you follow your calling and manage to overcome the obstacles through talent and figure out what you really want to do, nothing in the world can stop your professional accomplishment, especially if you have principles and good intentions.

I can say I was one of the main precursors of infographics in Brazil, who raised the banner and swam against the establishment. But to elevate Brazilian infographic design to its actual standard wasn’t by any means an accomplishment of one person. It also belongs to the dozens and dozens of professionals that taught me, believed in the journey and traveled alongside with me. I’d love to mention them all, but trust me, you don’t have enough room in this interview for that.

To all of them, my deepest and eternal gratitude for believing in my vision and professional silks. I wish them all the greatest success and happiness in their lives.

Now I’m working alone, and I see that the challenges are infinitely bigger, to a point that I’m still not sure of what path to follow. I’m only sure of three things, from this point on: Believe in myself, in my professional experience, and get out there to find the opportunities.

Life goes on!

VL – Thank you very much, Luiz, and we wish you all the best!

LI – Thanks you!


We thank Luiz for the time he dedicated answering our questions and wish him all the best in this new challenge. You should visit Luiz’ Blog, for further ezamples of his work, and connect with him on Behance, Twitter and Facebook.

Written by Tiago Veloso

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