Christian Tate is the designer of Delayed Gratification, a new quarterly almanac which takes a look back at old news stories to see what has happened to the key people and places once the dust has settled. The journal features numerous infographics, many with a focus on artistry as well as the transfer of information. We interviewed Christian to find out about his experiences working with infographics…
I design the whole magazine and do a lot of the illustrations and infographics too.
2 – How long have you been creating infographics?
I’ve worked as a graphic designer for 15 years, mostly designing for magazines and newspapers. I started doing infographics mainly through necessity to fill a gap when there was no time to commission an illustrator or photographer. Being a freelance graphic designer is a good place to start as you are often on hand to push yourself forward at the ideas stage.
3 – Why do we use infographics?
I think there are basically two types of infographics – sequences and comparisons.
Sequences usually show a change or development across a period of time, like a comic strip or Ikea assembly instructions, or an evolutionary chart – it’s much easier for us to understand a sequence visually so we can see the beginning and the end and we can follow a path.
Comparisons can show us information in recognisably quantifiable terms – such as showing a billion dollar deficit in terms of a lifetime’s earnings for instance. The earliest infographic I can remember being interested in was an illustration of the size of a brontosaurus compared to a double-decker bus – the infographic gives us everyday context to some often unimaginable facts and figures.
4 – What are the advantages of infographics? What are the common pitfalls in creating them?
The main advantage is that we can present complex information in an easily understandable way, and show at a glance an interpretation of that information. I think the worst way to create an infographic is to start out with a “cool” format idea and try to shoehorn the information in – the form should always follow the function, if you let the visuals grow organically from the information then the graphic will just look right, it will be beautiful.
It is important to decide at the start what you want the infographic to say, how you want to interpret the information, and just as importantly what you don’t want to include. You can never tell the whole story, creating an infographic is about simplification and clarification, you have to be ruthless and it’s often best to just think about one or two things you want to highlight.
5 – When you are creating an infographic, how do you decide how best to visualise it?
It’s difficult to describe the process of deciding how to approach the visualisation, but it is very much a collaborative one with the writers and editors – we usually start with a spreadsheet and play with the information to see what patterns start to appear, often it’s obvious how the information should be shown.
6 – What type of news stories are best served by infographics?
The best candidates for an infographic are stories with lots of numbers, or a sequence of events -abstract ideas which can’t be photographed.
7 – Have any infographics in the press stood out to you?
I’m a huge fan of the website (and the book) “Information is Beautiful” run by David McCandless which gathers together some of the best infographics around , as well as showcasing his own work which is a big inspiration, particularly his graphics for the Guardian newspaper.
8 – Have you seen any really BAD examples of infographics? What did they do wrong?
I’ve seen some infographics that are unintelligible, over-complicated, but still beautiful – something we have experimented with in Delayed Gratification is infographic as decoration – in some instances we have taken simple information and deliberately over-complicated its presentation to create a visual puzzle subverting the relationship between data and representation. We are breaking our own rules here, but used sparingly the infographic as art can be quite striking in its effect and the unravelling of the layers of over-complication can be quite satisfying.
I think the key is context – in a newspaper, simplicity and clarity of communication is most important but you can get away with a lot more layers in a publication like Delayed Gratification which has a long shelf-life.
9 – What CAN’T infographics do?
I think that infographics are only one interpretation of raw data, by necessity of the process of simplification and clarification an infographic can only show one point of view – you could probably make many different graphics from one set of data and they could all be visually unique, supporting a different editorial slant – you can’t include everything and you can’t always be completely accurate, but you can give an impression and a visual understanding of information that can be read at a glance and will usually be backed up by a more thorough analysis in accompanying text.
For more information on the work Christian Tate does, visit his website: http://www.christiantate.co.uk/.
For a preview of the first issue of Delayed Gratfication, visit: http://www.dgquarterly.com/