RevSquare's top infographics designers, brothers Samuel and Juan Velasco, both had winding paths to their careers in infographic design, but from the acclaim their work has received, it's clear infographics were their destiny. Born in Spain and now based in New York and Washington DC, the Velascos run 5W Velasco Design Group, a design firm specializing in infographics. RevSquare's Rebecca Phillips spoke to them about trends in infographic design on the occasion of the release of the new book, The Best American Infographics 2014, which features the Velascos' work.
RevSquare: Congratulations on your inclusion in the new book, The Best American Infographics 2014. Which of your infographics are included in the book?
Juan Velasco: We have two graphics in the book, and there are eight or nine others that I art-directed when I was Art Director of National Geographic. One of our graphics is a data visualization of every space mission to the Solar System.
The other shows when the usage of different words in the English language was first documented, including some in use since the 12th century.
Samuel Velasco: There is another book just coming out that includes a few of our graphics. It is called "Infographic Designer's Sketchbooks" by Steven Heller and Rick Landers.
RS: Are these books evidence that interest in infographics is growing?
SV: I have noticed a huge growth on graphics for the web, in the last three years or so.
RS: How did you both get interested in designing infographics?
JV: I’m a journalist and always had an interest in drawing (our dad was an illustrator and writer), so the profession of infographics was a perfect fit.
SV: I used to be an illustrator, so for me, the path was the reverse of Juan's, from illustration to information. I guess Juan and I found each other in the middle.
RS: Why are infographics such a good way of distributing content, data, or information?
JV: I think people, especially younger readers, are attracted to visual messages. You can present a lot of information through visuals in a way that would be impossible with just text. You can show trends, reveal what is hidden behind large amounts of data, etc.
SV: Humans are visual animals, as much as dogs are better at smells. Anything visual has an immediate appeal, much more than text. It's instinctive.
RS: When you sit down to design an infographic, what are the most important elements to consider?
JV: You need relevant, accurate, complete information. In other words, good research.
SV: First, the information. Then you need to know your audience. Who is going to be the receiver of the information? You adapt the information and style to that particular audience.
JV: You have to structure it visually to communicate a message in an appealing and logical way. You build a step by step explanation that makes a process easier to understand.
RS: Do different visual styles appeal to different audiences?
JV: I think a National Geographic reader is used to a more in-depth experience, and expects very high level of finesse and newly produced research, from direct sources (scientists, scholars, etc). A younger reader would almost surely expect interactivity, and being given options to explore rather than a curated, fixed set of content. Less text, more image, and a quick simple message.
RS: A lot of companies these days want to produce infographics that will "go viral." What do you think makes an infographic get shared by many people?
JV: You have to get a bit lucky to have it fall in the hands of “influencers” that will disseminate it. And the content has to hit readers as being unique, original, and funny.
RS: Do you see any upcoming trends in infographics?
JV: Yes, good and bad ones. There is a lot of “data visualization” out there that is extremely hard to understand. It’s data art, or a data dump, rather than edited information to make it understandable. They are “cool” visualizations that receive the title of infographics but are not good at explaining or clarifying information.
SV: There is also a trend toward responsive infographics, that adapt themselves to the different platforms and screens. This is not a completely new idea, but it hasn't been explored in depth yet.
JV: Also, the architecture of web graphics is being influenced by larger trends in web design such as continuously scrolling graphics, where the scrolling triggers motion. The [New York Times's] Snow Fall story and the graphics in it set a trend that is seen everywhere now.