The infographics of Times of Oman

Nizwa Fort (English)

A few years ago, anyone interested in news infographics started to notice the work of a newspaper doing really smart and creative infographics. And it came from the unlikeliest of places: the Sultanate of Oman, an Arab country on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. The Times of Oman (in English) and its sister publication Al Shabiba (in Arabic) have been winning every important award in the field for years. Led by Design Director Adonis Durado and Graphics Director Antonio Farach, they have assembled a multinational and multitalented team that is is comfortable mixing data visualization, superb hand-made and digital illustrations and a unique mastery of graphic design.



Beekeeping (English) 51@114823_Sup_20-11-2016_p06-p07(3).indd 51@114823_Sup_20-11-2016_p06-p07(3).indd 51@114819_Sup_20-11-2016_p02-p03(1).indd 1523520_645431735497860_1061389252_o 8d899e25882035-5634c391b516d Untitled-4

Their original thinking gives fruits like the three-dimensional World Cup Dataviz Ball published ahead of the last World Cup. Here is a great explanation of the process to create it by Antonio Farach.



As of late 2014, the team included three illustrator-designers (Winie Ariany, Lucille Umali and Isidore Vic. Carloman), one graphic designer (Sreemanikandan Satheendranathan), and two graphic editors (Antonio Farach and Marcelo Duhalde).

The New Tableau 10


Our Infographics and Data Visualization workshops always include spending a few hours using the free Tableau Public software to create interactive data visualizations with charts and maps on the web. Tableau is a great first step for those interested in data visualization online since it’s fairly easy to learn. The newest version (Tableau 10) was released three months ago and has really nice improvements including a long overdue addition of device responsiveness to visualize data across multiple devices.

We use Tableau during the workshop because it doesn’t require the coding skills necessary to use sophisticated tools such as D3.js, the tool behind many of those amazing interactives of The New York Times and others (although today you can code a nice data visualization in R, for example, with just a few lines of code). Tableau is a great exploratory tool that lets you quickly evaluate different options to visualize you data. We actually use it for print graphics as well after saving files as PDFs.

Tableau is a powerful tool but also a great way of starting to think about key concepts in interactivity: about how to use filters, buttons, navigation tool tips or exploratory dashboards to let readers dive deep in your content. It’s used by thousands of corporations as a Business Intelligence/Analytics tool to visualize their data. The free version is a useful tool for individuals and organizations interested in making data public (remember that with Tableau Public you can’t save files locally, they are all saved to Tableau server and available for anyone to see and to download, including the datasets used. You may prefer the Tableau Desktop version but it’s not cheap).

Some of the new features in Tableau 10 include:

  • Device responsiveness. You can now generate visualizations optimized for desktop, tablet, and mobile phones. Although far from perfect, it’s a big step forward in Tableau.
  • Ability to connect to data stored in Google Sheets. You can set to your visualization to refresh automatically every day, if the underlying data in your Google Sheets file changes.
  • A “highlighter” feature gives users added possibilities to sort, find and highlight specific data for ad hoc views and comparisons.
  • Cross-database joins: you can join different data sources within the program.
  • Custom Territories: Create custom areas in maps using the data built into the geocoding database.
  • And finally, a cleaner interface with new iconography, fonts and colors, sporting a cleaner, less cluttered look that I find much nicer.

In addition, the just released Tableau 10.1 includes:

  • JSON support. JSON is common file format for web based data, widely used for API-returned data. This means you can download web-based JSON files and start to visualize them right away.
  • Automatic clustering is very interesting. Tableau helps identifying interesting patterns from the data by automatically generating clusters based of the groupings/categories specified by the user.

Clustering feature. GIF from Tableau Public website

Tableau’s website include great learning resources. If you are looking for a good book to learn it, here is the one I found most useful.

Crime in Milwaukee 3



The 800-year-old Cutaway Graphics of Ismail Al-Jazari

Al-Jazari2.jpgAl-Jazari’s automaton musical band

In the introduction to LOOK INSIDE we mention the mechanical engineer, artist, inventor, mathematician, artisan and scholar Ismail Al-Jazari (1136-1206) as the first person in history to make extensive use of cutaways with the clear intention of revealing how something works. In the book we mentioned him briefly, and did not have the chance to show any of his illustrations. We will do so here.

Badīʿ az-Zaman Abū l-ʿIzz Ismāʿīl ibn ar-Razāz al-Jazarī (Ismail Al-Jazari for short) lived in what is today Turkey. Very little is known about his life beyond the fact that he belonged to a family of artisans and engineers, and that he served as the chief engineer for the local ruler, just as his father did before him. His fame rests mostly in a book he wrote and illustrated in 1206 titled “Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices”. In this book Al-Jazari describes many machines, often of his own invention, with instructions on how to built them. More than an engineer in the modern sense he was a mechanical artisan that assembled his machines by trial and error, rather than by mathematical calculation.

Al-jazari6_elephant_clock.pngElephant clock

Hydropowered perpetual flute

Mechanical peacock fountain

The machines described in his books include several automata, such as drink-serving waitress, a hand-washing servant, and a musical robot band, and many types of clocks and several pumps and water-rising mechanisms. In his book Al-Jazari cites the previous authors that have inspired several of his machines, and how he improved them. Many of the machines though are original inventions than employ novel techniques and mechanisms.

Candle clock

Hydraulic mechanism

Water-serving automaton

Most importantly for us, wonderful cutaway drawings in color illustrate the functioning for most of the machines. The precise and beautiful diagrams look remarkably modern, and are drawn in a clean lineal style, and include labels indicating the name for each part of the mechanism.

There are many good articles online about Ismail Al-Jazari. This one include extensive references and is a great place to start if you want to lean more about this medieval genius.

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Our new book about cutaways, LOOK INSIDE: Cutaway Illustrations and Visual Storytelling is a showcase of the best, most beautiful and fascinating cutaway illustrations ever created, from historical times to now. Cutaways, exploded views, and cross sections, are explored across a wide range of applications and disciplines. Architectural renderings, anatomical illustrations, machine diagrams, and even fantasy illustrations are just a few of the various subjects presents in this compilation.

LOOK INSIDE is published by Gestalten and will be released in the U.S. in November 21st. It can be preorder in Amazon, or, if you are in Europe, can be ordered at the Gestalten online store.

The best world map projection ?


One of the most prestigious design awards, the GOOD DESIGN Grand Award from Japan, was awarded a few days ago to something quite unexpected: a new world map projection. The winning projection is called AutaGraph and its creator is Japanese designer and architect Hajime Narukawa, who leads a company with the same name. Here is his site.

The new projection (it’s actually over a decade old, but the prize has brought it to fame) is being labeled by news organizations as “the most accurate ever” or “finally faithful” with great hyperbole.

  • Projections

The representation of the world on a flat surface is a problem that has always challenged cartographers. It’s impossible to project a spherical object accurately on a flat surface and every single projection in existence has to make some trade-offs. The ubiquitous Mercator projector, created by Gerardus Mercator in 1569 is very accurate in the representation of shapes and small-area angles (this is what we call a conformal projection) so it was widely used by explorers and sea merchants. But as you move towards the poles areas are greatly distorted. Greenland appears larger than Brazil when it’s several times smaller in reality. It’s an old and inaccurate projection but a variation of it, the Web Mercator is actually the de facto standard for Web mapping applications as it keeps north up, and meridians are equally spaced vertical lines, preserving shapes and angles well. It’s what you want when you zoom into small areas like you would do in a city map with Google Maps or similar tools.

Mercator Projection

Mercator Projection

Many other projections more accurate than Mercator are used today. The Mollweide protection, for instance, is a well balanced one. In 1998, the Winkel Triple projection replaced the Robinson projection as the standard projection for world maps made by the National Geographic Society.

Winkel Triple Proction

Winkel Triple Proction

Using the right projections is always important. Smaller areas often require different projections that are most accurate for that view. Official United States maps, for instance, are often represented with the Albers equal-area projection. It’s used by the United States Geological Survey, the Census Bureau and many good news organizations. It’s a conicequal-area map projection (equal-area projections are those where areas are well preserved) that works well for extended areas in mid-latitudes.

In a conic map we choose two lines that frame the area of interest. It’s derived from the projection of the globe onto a cone placed over it. The cone intersects the globe at the standard lines (parallels) Distortion is minimal between the standard parallels, but increases away from them.


Albers Projection



  • How AutaGraph was made

Going back to the AutaGraph map, it was made by equally dividing a sphere into 96 triangles, transferring it to an inflated tetrahedron while maintaining areas proportions and unfolding it to the rectangle. Here is the step-by-step process:


And a TED Talk where Narukawa explains it:


The Autograph projection resembles the Dymaxion map invented in 1946 by Buckmisnter Fuller. The shapes and sizes of continents are fairly accurate, but the oceans are interrupted.

Dymaxion Projection

Dymaxion Projection

“AuthaGraph faithfully represents all oceans and continents including the neglected Antarctica,” says Narukawa. “These fit within a rectangular frame with no interruptions. The map can be tessellated without visible seams.”

Although conceptually it’s in the category of equal-area maps, Narukawa admits it needs more work (further subdivisions) to be a true equal-area map. According to his website, the mapping projection was selected by the Japanese National Museum of Emerging Science and innovation (Miraikan) as it official mapping tool and is used in official Japanese high school text books.

  • Our take

If the accuracy claims are true (no way these humble bloggers can verify it) it’s a remarkable achievement. As Narukawa points out, it’s less western centric and calls more attention to the poles in light of global warming and future issues like the exploration of Arctic resources, a major geopolitical concern.

But… It’s not a map we can expect will be widely used in the future. We wouldn’t. The orientation and shape is simply too unfamiliar and any thematic content you may display on it would be obscured by the distraction. Among other oddities, the gridlines take odd changes in direction, some shapes (such as Brazil or Alaska’s) seem severely distorted, and Australia appears to be as far from Antarctica as it is from Europe. Good information design is always the one where the content holder (the base map, in this case) recedes and remains invisible to bring forward the content with greater clarity.




FAQ: Our Infographics and Data Visualization workshop


Our next infographics and Data Visualization workshop will take place in Washington D.C. on December 1-2, and it’s still open for registration (sign up before November 24 and you’ll get our book Look Inside free!). We are often asked about the content of the workshop (see a complete schedule by clicking on the “schedule” tab here), whether participants need previous experience, and a few other things. Here are some quick answers:

  • What will I learn?

You keep hearing about the power of infographics and data visualization, and wonder how you can use them with your content. The purpose of our 2-day workshop is to explain the principles and practical guidelines that will enable you to create powerful visual stories that illuminate concepts for your readers. And to practice them hands-on. The workshop is not about designing pretty decorative presentations but rather about discovering insightful stories hidden behind your text and data, and telling relevant stories with them with high visual impact and accuracy.

Infographics and data visualization are broad fields and we’ll cover all the most important aspects to give you the whole picture:

  • Finding the visual potential hidden in written reports
  • The Do’s and Dont’s of accurately plotting numbers and statistics
  • Telling stories with maps: types and uses of geographic and thematic cartography
  • Sketching and planning explanatory diagrams
  • Design principles: hierarchy, color, type, narrative flow and page integration
  • Storyboarding efficient motion graphics
  • Key concepts in interactive data visualization on the web, including mobile
  • Overview of tools and available resources
  • Who should attend?

Anyone interested in knowing how infographics and data visualization can help transform their stories to make them engaging and insightful through the use of images, maps and data. Graphics designers, journalists, editors, researchers, marketing specialists; professionals of NGOs, Government, Finance, PR working in public outreach to explain initiatives and programs, or seeking to improve the efficiency and creativity of their internal or external communications.

  • Is it theory or practice?

The workshop is a mix that includes presentations on all the different aspects of infographics/dataviz, discussion, and group practice. There will be short exercises scattered throughout the workshop, and a larger project where groups will put together detailed sketches for a large infographic containing multiple elements.

Throughout the exercise the participants will experience the entire workflow of a typical infographic:

  • Brainstorming for editorial and presentations ideas
  • Data collection
  • Making visual choices
  • Designing an effective narrative
  • Putting it all together and making final choices on editing and presentation.

On the first day, the goal of the group exercise will be creating a sketch for print or online static infographic/dataviz. On the second day, we’ll take the same topic to re-think and re-design it as a motion graphic (by creating a storyboard), or as an interactive data visualization (working on structure, navigation, layering and interactivity). The interactions during exercises get really animated and fun.

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  • Who are you and what are your credentials?

We have created and published several thousand infographics/data visualizations over our careers, mostly in journalism where rigorous accuracy and clarity are paramount. We (Juan and Samuel Velasco) founded 5w Infographics in 2001. 5w Infographics is an award-winning design and consulting company that specializes in information-driven projects. Today, we have offices in New York, Washington D.C., and Madrid. 5W Academy is our education initiative and organizes the workshop.

Juan was the Art Director of National Geographic magazine from 2008 to 2014. Previous to National Geographic, he worked as a graphics reporter for El Mundo (Spain) and as the Graphics Art Director for The New York Times.

Samuel was one of the original founders of the daily newspaper El Mundo (Madrid), in 1989. El Mundo’s art department quickly became the center of a “boom” of infographics in Europe. In the U.S., he became an Art Director at Fortune magazine.

5W Infographics has won over 150 national and international awards for its work on information design. Clients include The New York Times, National Geographic, Time magazine, Fortune, The Economist, the Smithsonian Museums, and the National Academy of Sciences, among others.

Over the last couple of years, we had over 800 attendees to our workshops in Washington DC, New York City, Amsterdam (Netherlands), Singapore, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Bangkok (Thailand), Manila (Philippines), Jakarta (Indonesia), Delhi and Chennai (India). We also have over 10 years of previous experience as instructors in other workshops and speakers.

Workshop n Amsterdam, June 2016

Amsterdam, June 2016 (hosted by Graphic Hunters)


Washington DC workshop, October 2016

Singapore, March 2016 (hosted by MaitreAllianz)

Singapore, March 2016 (hosted by MaitreAllianz)

  • Do I need any previous experience doing charts or infographics?

No. The workshop is definitely suitable for beginners and you don’t need any previous experience with infographics. It’s a broad introduction to infographics and data visualization where we’ll look at how to work with data, charts and mapping in print and online, and how to design complex infographics with multiple elements.

  • Do I need to know any software experience?

No. Most of our hands-on exercises will be done with hand sketching. We want to emphasize the process of making decisions about the source data, choosing between different visual alternatives to present it, and using color, hierarchy and typography to put it all together as a piece of visual storytelling. It’s about brainstorming, thinking visually, and making editorial and design decisions rather than software details, which would distract from the essence.

You’ll use a laptop (bring your own, optional) to do some general research (looking for source data and background information) for some of the exercises. And on the second day we’ll spend a couple of hours creating interactive data visualizations and maps with the free Tableau Public, for which you also don’t need previous experience. You won’t master the software but will get started and understand its potential.

  • Will I learn any Illustrator/PowerPoint/Coding tricks and skills?

This is not a software training class. We believe that learning the principles of data visualization and how to think and explain using visual concepts is different and more important than learning any particular tool. However, you’ll leave the workshop with a good knowledge about what tools are used today in the field, why, which ones may suit your needs, what they do, and how to expand your knowledge about them.

  • So I can start doing my own infographics right after the workshop?

We think so! If you have a minimal knowledge of Excel/PowerPoint and/or Adobe Illustrator you can be up and running armed with the practical knowledge on which types of charts/diagrams are best suited for your data, how to design your infographics/visualization and some key design guidelines. Plus you’ll be able to think visually in a way that gives you a new perspective on your content, and look critically at the infographics and data visualizations you encounter every day (so many bad ones surround us!)

  • What are the logistics” (venue, registration, lunches, cancellations, etc.)?

Please  our page and click on the “practical information” tab.

  • Will you give any handouts/materials?

Yes, we’ll give you a few summaries or “cheat sheets” of the content of the workshop to remember the main points, as well as the entire presentations (a wealth of great infographics examples and tips) as PDF or Keynote files, and a very comprehensive list of print and online resources to allow you to expand your knowledge about data presentation, mapping, infographics, etc. after the workshop. You’ll also obtain a diploma/certificate.

  • Can I reach you for additional questions?

Please do! Email us anytime at


G.H. Davis: a Master of the Cutaway

G.H. Dvis.jpg

In our new book LOOK INSIDE, dedicated to cutaway infographics, there are only two examples (due to space constrains) of the work of one of the most prolific cutaway artists of all time, and perhaps the first to concentrate most of his efforts in this particular kind of explanation graphics: George Horace Davis. Regrettably, he is almost completely forgotten today, and we feel he deserves to be better known.

G.H. Davis was born in London in 1881. He received a formal art education and was already working as a freelance artist before World War I. He served on the Royal Air Force putting his talent to good use creating aerial diagrams for pilot training. After the war he continued his career as a freelance artist specialized on military subjects, and in 1923 he started his 40-year collaboration with the Illustrated London News. By his own estimate he created more than 2,500 pages of illustrations over a 40-year span, many of them consisting of very detailed technical cutaways of military planes, ships, submarines, and tanks.



A British mine-laying submarine: detailed drawings of a boat of the Rorqual Class, in use during the Second World War. It carried out a specialised and dangerous task in enemy waters. Date: 1944

A British mine-laying submarine: detailed drawings of a boat of the Rorqual Class, in use during the Second World War. It carried out a specialised and dangerous task in enemy waters. Date: 1944

Most of his illustrations for ILN are black and white paintings, occupying  a full-page or a spread, and sometimes a four-page gatefold. During World War II he created hundreds of paintings revealing the inner workings of about every single plane, ship and tank used by both sides during the conflict.

Besides his work in ILN he collaborated with other British magazines such as Flight and Modern Wonders. In the U.S. Popular Mechanics published his work regularly. He died at age 82 in 1963, and many of his original pieces are preserved in the Imperial War Museum, in London.


A British mine-laying submarine: detailed drawings of a boat of the Rorqual Class, in use during the Second World War. It carried out a specialised and dangerous task in enemy waters. Date: 1944

A British mine-laying submarine: detailed drawings of a boat of the Rorqual Class, in use during the Second World War. It carried out a specialised and dangerous task in enemy waters. Date: 1944

There is not a lot of information about Davis online. There are good articles about him  here and here. For those interested, It is still possible to find original copies of his illustrations for ILN in Ebay.

LOOK INSIDE will be released this month in the U.S. In Europe it can be ordered already on Gestalten, and in the U.S. can be preordered in Amazon.

The power of cartograms and creating them easily


We love the power of cartograms to show thematic data maps because they overcome some of the problems of classic choropleth maps. And they can be beautiful. So it’s exciting to see a promising new tool to create nice cartogram hexmaps automatically. It’s called Tilegrams (for “tiled cartograms”) and it has been developed by Pitch Interactive in collaboration with Google News Labs. But let’s back up a little bit, since many people are not familiar with cartograms in the first place!

A cartogram is a map that actually functions as a chart by distorting the size of geographic areas (such as countries or states) in proportion to numerical values they represent. Here are two nice examples by John Tomanio, Director of Graphics at National Geographic. In the first map, each dot represents a specific number of people—2 million— living in a country. In the second map, each dot represents $20 billion in GDP for that country, as a proxy for consumption. The dramatic, yet entirely accurate data representation allows two different stories to emerge nicely as we see the relative weight of each country for that particular dataset. That’s the power of cartograms (the black circles here represent the same variables a few decades back, for a nice representation of growth over time).


You may say “ok, these look a little weird, why not represent these data in a choropleth map, or in other words using different shades of color in a “normal” map?”. Like the example below. Choroplet maps are ubiquitous and, while they are not incorrect, they are seen by many as misleading. They overrepresent the importance or large areas, and diminish the importance of small ones, just by virtue of their size in the page. If I plot GDP for different countries, for example, a large country with a medium value (say Brazil) “lights up” much more prominently than a country with a higher value such as Singapore, simply because Singapore is tiny and hard to see in the map. See a nice video from Vox here explaining the problem with choropleth maps.


One solution is to give all entities equal area and then use the choropleth technique (different shades of color represent different values). That’s more fair. But we can only show a few classes or “buckets” of data ranges, rather than precise values in each area.


So it may be interesting to resize each area according to the number we want to represent. Some cartograms can be fairly abstract. Instead of using the approximate shapes of countries or states, they use squares, circles or other geometric shapes to represent quantities in highly stylized maps. See this map we did for Fortune, with the number of millionaire households by state in the U.S. (color here represents a second variable, the median household income).


I love this type of cartogram. Here is another one by John Tomanio, a few years ago, for Fortune.


Cartograms can be really striking and powerful. Lately we have seen a comeback, and they were often used by different news organizations in the UK in the recent election cycles. A cartogram of the U.S. can be a nice way to represent that a small state in the East Coast may have many more electoral votes in the general election than a sparsely populated but large Midwest state. Here is the tilegram showing how much each state actually matters (how many electoral votes it holds) in the U.S. Much more telling than showing actual size in the context of election stories! Don’t be misled by how much blue or red you see in typical election maps.


Complex cartograms have been done manually forever, for example in Adobe Illustrator, as in the case of the National Geographic maps. It’s a painstaking process, but human judgement is critical to make sure the composites of little shapes will still resemble the actual map of the area, which is entirely the point if we want to avoid confusion. You have to put them together as a jigsaw puzzle.

We have seen tools that create cartograms working in conjunction with other GIS software tools, but if you ask me, they produce grotesquely deformed maps that are a hard to decipher mess (with that strange fisheye lens effect. You have probably seen them around). I think these are useless:


Tilegrams is a really nice concept, still evolving. It plots U.S. maps using hexagon shapes, which are more versatile than squares to assemble them together in adjoining shapes with different configurations. You can use some preloaded maps (electoral votes, population, etc) or load your own data. Tilegrams allows you to show different levels of resolution. For example, the first map below shows U.S. population with 4 million people represented in each tile. The one below shows 300,000 people per tile. As you would expect, the higher resolution allows us to resemble the shape of the U.S. better (but remember states are meant to be oversized or undersized to represent the values, so the unusual proportions are to be expected.


If the map starts looking a bit too weird you can drag hexagons to move them around. The tool tells the user about the statistical accuracy of each region’s surface area, as it tries to be both accurate and resemble the actual map in a difficult trade-off. You can export the map as a TopoJSON or as a SVG file, a wonderful option since it’s fully editable in Illustrator!

Pitch Interactive explains the tool here, and it continues to develop it. The company is now working on a U.S. county map. It sounds like a daunting task (there are over 3,000 counties in the U.S.). And hopefully one day we can show any country and their divisions in this simple way. I can’t wait to see what they come up with!