I’ve just got back from Malofiej16 in Spain. It is an Information Graphics conference run by the Society of News Design - Spanish Chapter – with a lot of credit going to Javier Errea, a Newspaper Design Director/ consultant who organises it. (He is also helped by the kind people at the University of Navarra, who also run a course that is possibly one of the principle reasons for Spain’s excellence in this field in the last 20 years or so.)
It’s an annual conference with two days of talks mainly centred on Information Graphics used in the news, but also with other subjects such as a truly fantastic talk a few years ago by Paul Mijksenaar on airport design.
I have decided not to show loads of pictures on this entry because I think they may detract from some of the summary of main points. (I won’t mention every speaker – other conference blogs do this – I don’t – and I am summarising my reflections on the speeches, rather than what was accurately said.)
Javier Errea made some sound points in his introduction. The main one was that by seeing an organ of communication (paper, magazine, website) as containing different types of devices (text, photo’s, graphics), one encourages these devices to compete and fight against each other. The writers don’t want graphics because it means less text and vice-versa. One could also argue that these disciplines would retreat within their own cultures even more and become stale.
Complimentary parts of the whole
He said one should instead regard the whole organ as a visual one, because that is how people are consuming it. Once this view is shared, al the means of communication acheive a finer balance and a better execution. The parts are all better linked and accessed and the experience is as a whole for both readers and employees.
(50%NYT) + (25%Clarin) …
Javier also mentioned how Information Graphics are becoming a little formulaic. I agree and I think there needs to be a little more activity across the whole spectrum of visual communication.
One thing I saw was a further departure from the schematic/ diagrammatic (Nigel Holmes and John Grimwade as fine proponents ) towards two opposite ends of the spectrum-of-visual-communication.
1. Attack of the over-layed circles
The first was the ‘data-aesthetic’ as championed recently by the New York Times but also used in a more accessible manner by the Guardian, UK. A mate and I were just pondering the influence of the world of data that is the web on all this. It’s all good stuff and doesn’t get aped too much (you cannot if you don’t have the data – and lazy apers don’t tend to gather much data.)
2. Aaaggh it’s an atom splitting on front of me! – oh - it’s just a picture
The second was a move towards the illustrated hyper-real. I would say that the main difference between this work and totally-real 3D rendering is a knowingly aesthetic moment that reminds us that it is just a drawn picture on the page (the use of pencil, colour wash, light effects in atomic renders etc) and isn’t real. The National Geographic excel at this work, especially in their scientific illustration. I also have to credit the Nat Geo speaker, Sean, on a great talk and I can assure any subscribers that more effort goes into the veracity of their dinosaur illustrations than Mother Nature spent on thinking up dinosaurs in the first place.
This was one of the reminders for me on how high the standards of editorial integrity are at these places that get it right (NYT, National Geographic, El Mundo, Clarin, etc). It was inspiring listening to the excitement and entrepreneurialism exhibited by NYT reporters at finding out the details of the Virginia Tech massacre so their readers could understand this particular story in the best (most relevant) way our current media can offer.
Bart and Lisa and Mario too
Shan Carter spoke about creating digital graphics and the NYT approach. He mentioned how they see their audiences and this rang true with me. In both my jobs at the BBC, I put understanding the audiences highly. One of my favourite models was that of Mario Garcia, who mentioned that there are Scanners and Readers (in fact the same person in different modes. Shan’s slightly more fun version of this was Bart and Lisa – design for those who are Lazy and Nerdy. I liked this model too but you really need to be a New Yorker speaking to a bunch of Europeans to properly carry it off.
Turn it up to 11!
Michael Robinson (Graphics Director at the Guardian, UK) made a really nice comment about the need for Volume Control. I though this was a good way of talking about a palette and style guide and having worked in news I wondered how often he had to fend off requests such as ‘ yeah but my story is worth the big stuff etc etc’. But, I thought ‘volume control’ was a fine phrase because it alluded to an elusive finessing to sensitive subjects that transcends just colour or tone.
As regards an equivalent to the excellent ‘design is what you take out as much as put in”, Michael said “there’s no need to show the sea if you are talking about the land” – which I liked.
Know thy reader
The big issue constantly ignored at this and every other design conference is ‘does it bring in more readers?’/”will it make us more money?”. Javier mentioned that ‘graphics retain reader attention in surrounding text”, but I’d like more detail. Intelligent customer research is so hard to do that most people are exposed to bad customer research and designers being some of the smartest people at sniffing bullshit, give it a wide berth. This is unfortunate as designers are also innately often the most humane discipline in their consideration of human needs and so it makes sense of them to take more ownership of this process and ultimately their destinies.
My main learnings for the WWII work are that the standard of work out there is really high. I need to decide where on the visual spectrum of possibility my work for WWII needs to be. Recent conversations with the new editor have pointed to better signposting of the subject matter as one starting point but I am happy with the echoing of the editorial tone hat my more schematic/ less ‘real’ approach is taking. We are also in deep discussions about the work for the year ahead so I’m pretty excited.