by Infogram
Create infographics

Survival of the fittest

How will infographic designers adjust to the new digital environment?

December 8, 2012

Print journalism is in decline. Who said it was Tina Brown, director of Newsweek, to the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo:

“We really believe that, in the U.S., the print media is in decline,” said the journalist. “Probably the same will happen in Brazil, the question is when, if it will be in two, three, five years. Nobody knows when, but it will be so. ”

This is already happening. Following the closure of JT (Jornal da Tarde) on 31/10 and the cuts in Editora Abril with 150 layoffs, it’s difficult to be optimistic.

Infographics and data visualization are living a moment of expansion, numerically and qualitatively, while traditional media, newspapers and magazines (which were their main territory) struggle to survive in the digital world.

In the last three years, infographics settled as a form of communication highly adapted to the digital world. A simple Google search with the term “infographic” surprises by the amount of results – in my research, I found 42,200,000, but the most common search terms related to information design returned the following results:

Google search for ‘infographics’ related terms

These numbers are indeed impressive, and show its dissemination and absorption by the digital world. And while printed infographics keep suffering with falling sales and closure of newspapers and magazines, journalistic infographics will surely continue online.

This seems an obvious statement, but are we professionally prepared for this change?

Do we dominate the digital infographics?

We use digital media naturally in our everyday life, but to produce digital content with the same excellence that we do in print demands a conceptual improvement and requires an full toolkit upgrade. Not all of those who work with printed graphics will have the same expression online, because it’s not just a matter of simply transfering the solutions from one vehicle to another.

If we stop and look at a short list of tools and necessary skills such as video editing, HTML5, Processing, among other tools and qualifications, it’s clear that the transition can be much more complex, and even if it’s obvious that the end of print journalism is near, we are not yet prepared to migrate from one media to another.

I remember how painful it was for illustrators when the computer made its way into newsrooms. Talented professionals have failed to adapt to the tools, others failed to gain the same projection of their previous works. It was a period that separated those who would adapt from those who would not keep up with the changes. It may seem odd for the current generation of infographic designers and illustrators that so many couldn’t make that transition successfully, but I clearly see the same happening today.

For that generation, leaving the drawing board to embrace the computer was a process that not only changed the form of drawing, but also the way of thinking and working. Rulers, pens, ink, gouache and clipboards were all placed within a program, and the art of mastering the field of illustration was not the same as mastering a vector software – the first ones were everything but intuitive.

The first 3D programs ran on DOS, a black screen on which model was mostly done by writing commands at the prompt. Imagine the impact of that for those who had never worked on a computer.

The artist had to learn programming.

They had to abandon the pen and brush and learn to draw with a ‘soap’, as we called the mouse – they were slow, heavy in the response to movements and anything but ergonomic.

Today, the infographic designer has to do the same by dominating Processing (for example) and video editing, which is as challenging as it was for that generation. We often claim that this can be done by another professional like a programmer, but that closely resembles the time when page editors and news designers coexisted, something that came to an end.

And to conclude: some colleagues continued in the profession, while others ended up becoming good realtors, drawing teachers and sellers.

Written by Gerson Mora

Infographic designer and researcher