Caepsele: communicate visually!
A conversation with Sigrid Ortwein, founder of caepsele_visual storytelling.
1. What are the limitations of the written word? Can information graphics (infographics) go further?
‘Infographics can indeed establish connections, devise shortcuts and give information in a concise manner. It can even be entertaining. If used appropriately it provides a fast overview and highlights existing information. Images have a powerful visual appeal. Combinations of text and images can be particularly fast and efficient, even in the long term.
Pictograms, including graphic symbols and codes such as letters of the alphabet may be archetypal images, many of which have been passed on for generations and have become universally acknowledged symbols. And yet, picture codes are inseparable from their cultural context and may have embarrassing or even fatal consequences if this context is being ignored.’
2. Are infographics and data visualization nothing but a fashion hype?
‘Infographics have existed for ages. Cave paintings, hieroglyphics, stain glass church windows, battle scenes on canvas, historical engravings of city panoramas, nautical charts, architectural drawings, illustrated encyclopedia entries, emoticons (e.g. smileys) are but a few examples of infographics.
It requires however some discriminatory power to distinguish between infographics as a useful tool to communicate knowledge via a combination of image and text and the phenomenon frequently referred to as “info porn”. In fact, it requires constant critical scrutiny as well as a permanent double-checking of sources and verifying whether previous research was serious.
Today’s amazing technological possibilities obviously make it possible for professionals to come up with a large range of automated data visualizations that generate stunning pictures whose content/message may however be illegible or totally lost.
Such images serve purely decorative purposes: they suggest serious information and knowledge at first sight, but they fall into the category of “infotainment” or “info porn”.’
3. Is visual literacy required to understand infographics?
‘That is a complex issue, no less complex than semiotics or the use of metaphors in written or spoken language. But basically, a certain amount of visual literacy is necessary. Depending on the task, the medium or the target audience, information graphics can be designed according to various levels of abstraction, stylization, complexity, captions or even various layouts. After all, communication starts with the recipient.’
4. What is the typical working process? What information is absolutely essential before you get started?
‘There can be no single blueprint/strategy as every task is different.
It depends on the size, the context, drawing style and target audience and especially on the priorities of the client. A lot of parties contribute to the process before the final product is presented to the decision-maker.
It is important to point this out as the topics are becoming increasingly complex and specific to a professional domain. Thus consultation, project management and team communication can be time-consuming. A lot of clients do not realize this and consequently they are surprised by how high the fees for just a handful of images (with a few catchwords/buzzwords) can be.
Generally speaking, the more detailed the briefing and the distribution of responsibilities has been, the more efficient the cooperation will be and the more satisfying the result will be in the long term. The product/outcome is only ever as good as the input, the team and the interaction between them.’
5. Is there a risk of designers moderating/weakening or even misinterpreting the message that was originally intended?
‘In theory every designer risks doing so unintentionally, but a serious, responsible one will never do so deliberately. This type/kind of manipulation is already inherent in the process of data collection. Who commissions statistics? What is supposed to be the message? Where does the information come from? How reliable is the communication of information and news? For all these reasons it is crucial that data and sources ought to be verified systematically.’