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Visualization #1 – Laura Cattaneo’s “HOW TO create an infographic”


INTERVIEW. She's 33 from Milan. Laura Cattaneo is a journalist. She creates the infographics and the illustrations for the Italian newspaper IlSole24ore. And she's the art director of la vita nòva, a science and technology supplement created only for the iPad. You can check her – brilliant – work on her site Half Past Twelve. A brief interview started on Facebook, ended on Twitter and done by mail.

Let's start with the basics. What is an infographic?

It's the visual representation of data. It can be more or less complex. The aim of this kind of visualization is to transmit content through a non textual language. The word "infographic" is a bit generic and it's often used to define many kind of graphics, that don't always produce information.

What's the secret to produce a good infographic?

First of all the data have to be right and well represented. The elements have to be placed to be understandable and easy to read. I prefer to avoid the accessory elements – which don't provide any added value – that only distract the reader.

What's the difference between an infographic and a simple series of pie charts?

Actually even a pie chart is an infographic. In the last ten years the way we perceive information is totally changed. Everyday we produce thousands gigabytes of data. For this reason the visualization of complex information has become more and more important. This use of big amount of information is called visualization.

An infographic too much complex can complicate – in stead of simplify – its content. How is it possible to avoid this problem?

The key is the synthesis and the rationalization of information. The colours and the composition of the elements have to facilitate the reading. When it comes to a complicated map, it's fundamental to give a key or a legend to explain the meaning of each element.

Who are your favourite graphic designers – or infographic designers :) -?

My graphic designers are Saul Bass, Alan Fletcher, Bruno Munari, Paul Rand, Charley Harper, Herb Lubalin, Bob Noorda… The infographic designer are Nicholas Feltron, Paolo Ciuccarelli, Enrico Bertini, David McCandless, Moritz Stefaner and Ben Fry who has created Processing with Casey Reas, an open source programming language to develop applications. It's often used to create very complex visualizations.

When you draw an infographic you think… How to tell a story. But I use illustrations and figures instead of words.

When you draw an illustration you think… How to find an idea. I try to avoid – and it doesn't always work – to be didactic. In my work I try to use simple signs and to be extremely concise. But sometimes I'm clearly asked to be have a detailed style, usually when I draw an object and how it works.

Do you work with a computer or you use other devices (from the iPad to the pencil&paper)?

It depends on how much time I have! I prefer to sketch on paper and I constantly use a graphic tablet which helps me a lot for drawing. And it has the same gestural as a pencil.

Do you receive the data of the infographic or you decide which data to use for an infographic?

Usually I receive the data already selected by journalists. It often happens that  I have to prepare the whole work, then I have to search and verify it. The journalistic experience is vital to transform the information correctly.

A book and an album you suggest for the summer?

A must about information graphics is Visual Storytelling by Gestalten and the graphic novel Le goût du clore by Bastien Vivès. The album I constantly listen to in these days is Imaginary Future by French Films.

If I spend a week-end in Milan in August I should….

During the summer Milan is another city. A marvellous city. I'd suggest you to have a random tour by bike. The streets are a kind of desert and you can discover areas of the city that are completely different during the year. And don't forget to have a dinner at the Caccialanza bowls club :)

The following journalists contibuted to the infographics above: Francesco Franchi, Alessandro Gilberti, Sara Deganello and Daniele Lorenzetti.


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