Juan Velasco co-founded 5W Infographics in January 2002. Currently, he is also Art Director of National Geographic magazine. He has won over 50 Society for News Design awards, ten Malofiej awards, two Society of Publication Design awards, and one American Institute of Graphic Arts honour.
He was also a Pulitzer prize finalist in 2001 as part of a team of writers and visual journalists for The New York Times. From 1999 to 2002, he was Graphic Art Director at the newspaper. Prior to this, Velasco was a graphics reporter for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo in Madrid).
As consultant, he has helped restructure graphics departments and newsrooms around the world, including Le Monde in Paris, and Puls Biznesu in Warsaw. He is also an instructor for the Show, Don't Tellinfographics workshop at the Malofiej convention in the University of Pamplona in Spain.
TKSAJEEV INTERVIEWS JUAN VELASCO EXCLUSIVELY FOR www.newspaperdesign.ning.com
1.Tell me about the evolution of information graphics
A good information graphic always starts with good reporting and
research. Graphics are journalism, and the process is the same used by
a writer or a photographer in a newspaper: first, gather all the
information you need by doing research (in the field, online, with
phone interviews), etc. Then, you need to be able to select the most
relevant information and sketch out a visual narrative that is clear
and engaging. I encourage everyone to create lots of pencil sketches
before they jump into the computer. That will help you create a good
hierarchy of dominant and secondary elements, a logical flow for the
reader and a good integration in the page. Work together with the page
designers. It's also important to write the text and start editing
early, not at the end of the process. I often see designers that
create big, flashy illustrations and at the very end they try to fit
some text in any empty spaces available. The flow of text should be
part of the initial sketches. An information graphics specialist or a
designer creating graphics should be able to be comfortable working
with text, even doing some editing.
One you have a good sketch, you should send it to your experts and
sources to confirm everything is correct, and circulate it in the
newsroom for editors’ feedback. And then you can finalize the
illustration in the computer or by hand. At the end, it’s important to
do good editing of the text and to send the final graphics to your
expert for a last review.
one of the works of Juan
2.What's the homework an information graphic specialist must do?
Read your newspaper or magazine everyday. If you want to be respected
in the newsroom as a visual journalist you need to be able to propose
topics and to be on top of the news to discuss them with editors. If
you are a content creator that can smell a good visual story, they
will respect your role. If you just wait for assignments, you may end
decorating pages with meaningless drawings.
In terms of “homework” it’s also important to look at what others are
doing. Your competition as well as other visual professionals. And to
stay current with software.
3.How can a reader spot out true information graphics?
A good information graphics is the one that will give you a good
amount of useful information in a way that is smart, clear, and easy
to understand. It can be beautiful too, but the art design is used to
inform, not just as decoration.
The danger is that there are many big illustrated graphics or examples
of data visualization that look very good but don’t inform, just
decorate. You don’t learn anything.
one of the works of Juan
4.What's the role of information graphics in the coming years?
We are in a really interesting moment with the beginning of new tablet
devices. Many news organizations are translating their content to the
iPad, and that includes creating interactive versions of their
graphics without the possibility of using Flash, which is not
supported by Apple. So we are all learning new ways of developing that
interactivity with WoodWing or the new Adobe Tools that integrate in
CS5. I think for the first time, print designers and graphics
specialist that never used Flash because it is too technical or
intimidating will start doing interactive content because they will be
able to it directly within InDesign. But the important thing, as
always, will still be to tell stories with accuracy in engaging and
Other than that, information graphics will continue to be an important
tool to tell stories to readers that have shorter attention spans than
ever and don’t want to read.
5.These days some information graphics were more complicated that its
difficult to follow for an ordinary reader. Your comment on this?
I think you are right. There is a growing trend of "data
visualization" techniques that produce very sophisticated and "cool"
computer images. The problem is no one can understand what they mean.
We always need to remember that readers don't have much time to spend
on the newspaper or the magazine. If we give them something that is
too demanding, too busy, or too difficult to understand, they will
pass the page quickly. Simple is always better. Sometimes graphics
specialists do innovative formats to impress themselves and their
graphics colleagues or because they are bored of doing the same
charts, but the reader is looking for simple understanding. I also see
too much text and too many elements in many graphics, which is
overwhelming for the readers. It’s better to explain one thing well
than to give a complete encyclopedia about an event.
one of the works of Juan
6 How important is the subject selection for the information graphics?
The subject matter is always driven by the news, by the stories that
are relevant now and need to be told to readers. Of course, there are
topics that are better than others for infographics. Good charts make
sense of large sets of numbers and reveal the meaning and trends
behind them. Cross sections show you what is inside, which photography
can not do. Timelines and flow charts clarify time events and
relationships. The decision to make an infographics should be a
natural one, when it’s a better tool than text or photography to tell
7.Role of color in information graphics?
Color should always be used as information. It's important to
understand that an information graphic is not an illustration, it's an
explanation. A realistic illustration full of color can distract the
reader and make difficult to see the information we want to highlight.
It's better to use a restrained color palette with muted and light
colors, and then add stronger color only in the most important piece
of information: A trajectory in a map, the most important slice in a
pie charts, etc. Guide the eye of the reader. A good idea is to start
in black and white, and then add color very selectively for the things
that you want readers to see first.
A good color palette also gives a newspaper or magazine consistency
and authoritativeness. It should be a short palette. If you use a
whole rainbow of colors in every graphic, readers stop attaching
meaning to them.
8.Any difference in magazine and newspaper information graphics?
Newspapers usually have to work much faster, and that has the
advantage of immediate response to news and breaking news event.
Magazines usually have more time for continued coverage and analysis,
and for sophisticated feature graphics. And better printing. In places
like National Geographic, where I work, we also need to be aware of
the fact that our graphics live next to some of the most stunning
color photography in the world. So our graphics needs to be more
colorful and visually impacting than in newspapers, where a restrained
approach is usually best.
one of the works of juan
9.How difficult is the breaking information graphics?
Creating good breaking news is very, very difficult because in most
cases there is not good visual information available but there is
pressure from the newsroom to create large illustrated diagrams. We
are visual journalists and our main responsibility is to offer readers
accurate information. It's always better to be honest and show less if
we don’t have details. For instance, we can do just a small locator
map of the place of an accident, and do a more complicated illustrated
scene the next day when we know more details. Inaccurate drawings
will destroy your credibility very quickly.
For instance, in a robbery or a terrorist attack we never have too
much information. Witnesses give contradictory descriptions because
everything happens very quickly: the clothes of the robbers, the car
they used to escape, the exact trajectory they followed… Resist doing
anything that is not confirmed by official sources and remember that
in a drawing you need to be more precise than with words because
everything is shown. If you absolutely must do the graphic but don’t
have much information, use the text in the graphic to make clear it’s
reconstruction, a preliminary account, an artist concept. And zoom
out, get far enough from the action that you are not forced to draw
too much detail.
10 I have heard that New York Times have software's to devolp the
information graphics. How effective is this?
A graphic can be very artistic, with nice illustrations, or
data-driven, with a more restrained display of interesting statistics
that reveal a story with charts. That is what the The New York Times
does very well, and they have very smart people doing incredible work.
But in my opinion they can be a bit monotonous and lacking excitement,
and they maybe going too far in that direction. In the past World Cup,
for instance, they had these deep statistical analysis of everything
that went on during the game: number of passes, where the ball was at
every minute, and so on. But it’s cold and lifeless, and the sport is
about passion. The data-driven graphic is not the only valid response,
some themes ask for richly illustrated graphics that are dynamic and
“jump” out of the page to grab you.