A Data Visualization Developer for Reuters in Singapore, Marco Hernandez was previously Digital Design Director for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. He won silver at this year’s Society for News Design Best of Digital Design competition, for his use of maps in the SCMP multimedia article The Stones in the Road for China’s 2025 Plan on Electric Vehicles.
Here, he discusses the fundamentals of infographic design and what went into his award-winning project (shown below).
1. Why do infographics matter? What makes them so powerful?
Graphics are like a theatre performance or a movie. You need to prepare the stage and take care of every little detail in order to hook the reader and give them the best possible experience.
The nice thing about graphics is that we can use many different disciplines to tell a story – text, video, interactive elements, sketches, pictures, 3D models, audio – anything that will enhance the reader’s experience of the data. Infographic designers enjoy paying close attention to the needs of data, and presenting that data in the best way possible to tell a visual story.
2. What makes a good infographic? Or rather, an amazing one?
For us to be able to create a good graphic, the topic must have that rare combination of visual potential and the power to grasp the reader’s attention. As for the visuals themselves, they should be simple, clean and easy to understand.
An amazing graphic possesses all these ingredients, while also showing something unexpected – a different angle to a story, with the kinds of touches only graphics can provide.
3. What are the most important considerations for infographic designers?
First, topic selection. Even if the topic is great, we might not be able to produce a good graphic out of it. Many stories are best told in text, with a video or with photos. We need to choose the most appropriate output for the information in question.
Second, editing. This is very tricky: We need to take the essence of the story, then add in supplementary information while always keeping an eye to the details. We have to make sure not to lose the little things that make the story unique.
Third, polishing. It’s important to take care with every space and margin, proof colours for best contrast, and check the composition. All of this must be done with sensitivity, to highlight the graphic’s main idea – not make it beautiful. If the infographic works, it will already be beautiful.
4. What mistake do less experienced designers tend to make?
This one is not confined to those with less experience, but many designers will let their “inner artist” lead the way – that’s a big mistake. The same applies to letting one’s “inner journalist” or “inner coder” run the show. The work requires drawing equally from a range of disciplines. The good professionals are those who know how to maintain a balance between disciplines, always in the service of the story.
5. Would you share some of your thought process on the award-winning China 2025 infographics? What made you design the maps the way you did?
This project was about China’s technology strategy and targets up to the year 2025. The story covered seven key areas identified by the Chinese government as fundamental to the country’s development in the coming decade.
All the topics were interesting, but it was difficult to find a starting point for visual content. Rather than just showing boring charts with market numbers, I began looking for different angles. My intention was to show that – the huge size of the Chinese market notwithstanding – it would be extremely difficult if not practically impossible to achieve a complete migration from petrol cars to electric vehicles. The story first touched on the topic of mineral extraction, and the imbalance between supply and demand, especially when it comes to cobalt.
The preliminary sketches. Visit the site to see it in its final form!
From there, it progressed to the main topic: How you can’t go wherever you want in China using the country’s public charging stations for electric vehicles. I spent some time researching relevant data and suddenly had an idea: What if China doesn’t have as dense a network of charging stations as, say, Japan, Europe and the US? Then, if I know a car’s battery range, I can work out how far it’s possible to go on China’s road network. I made a quick check of the charging stations’ locations in OpenStreetMap, and found that yes! The story was there.
How far can you go in China in an electric car?
Marco created different versions of these range maps for desktop, mobile and print.
Follow Marco Hernandez on Twitter: @TmarcoH