About Juan Velasco

Founder and Creative Director of The 5W Velasco Design Group

Infographics workshop in Amsterdam

We’ll probably have workshops in Taiwan and Singapore before the end of the year, but it’s never too soon to announce the next one in Europe: next February I’ll be again in Amsterdam (Netherlands) teaching a two-day workshop on infographics for print and online. It’s organized by Graphic Hunters, an initiative by Goof van de Winkel that provides training on graphical literacy, infographic storytelling, online data visualization and more in the Netherlands with international trainers.

Here is some additional information on the workshop, which will take place on February 8 and 9, 2018. No previous experience is required. The course is suited to anyone who’s interested in learning how to communicate effectively through data visualization and infographics. It could appeal to graphic designers, editors, communications or marketing professionals, data analysts and/or researchers. It’s a mix of theory and lots of hands-on exercises where we’ll look at some principles of visual storytelling, design, best practices with charts and maps, tools and key concepts in interactive and data visualization, and more.

The class is taught in a beautiful location (Mmousse) in a downtown canal house on one of Amsterdam’s most beautiful canals, around the corner of the central station. The idea is to have a relatively small group. I did a version of the workshop in the same space two years ago (photo below).

Here is a testimonial (translated from Dutch)

The two day workshop Information Graphics For Print and Online was very inspiring and helped us (myself and my colleagues) very much. The organization of the workshop was excellent. In a nice location with a nice working environment and good lunches! The group of students was great. Large enough to have many different angles. And small enough to have a lot of personal interaction. Additionally, it is very nice to get in touch with people with similar interests (dataviz!), but completely different backgrounds. The course leader provided a wealth of experience and knowledge, and offered space to mess as a group with the matter. In addition to the inspiration, we learned to work with different visualization tools and get better visualizations. The extra that the course leader, Juan Velasco, added, were the aspects of dataviz that make it a classic craft. Or even an art form. Rid of all the fancy tools you can use today, and then you come back to the essence again. I recommend it to everyone!”

If you are interested in attending, please contact Goof van de Winkel at info@graphichunters.nl.

Finally, you’ll find a cool note on Graphic Hunters’ website: since they work with trainers from abroad who travel by plane to the Netherlands specifically for the training, CO2 emissions from these trips are compensated by Graphic Hunters by contributing to Trees for All. Great idea!

 

 

 

 

Catalogs of chart types

The Data Viz Project is a new online catalog of different types of charts created by Ferdio, an infographics studio in Denmark. It’s a useful resource to help decide appropriate types of visualization for any given dataset (another thing is to decide which one will be the most insightful and revealing when you have multiple options). You can view and sort by type, function or shape.

Each type of chart includes a description, a good gallery of real-life examples, and a very simple description of the type of data input needed to create that type of chat, in a table format (what you would input in Excel, for instance).

The Data Viz Project is the latest of many efforts to classify and catalog different ways of visualizing data. Another excellent online resource is the Data Visualization Catalogue, developed by Severino Ribecca, which we often show in our workshops.

Ribecca teamed up with Jon Schwabish in another project to create the Graphic Continuum, a nicely designed poster taxonomy of different types of charts, and how they all relate to each other. You can read more about it here.

The Graphic Continuum

And here is yet another similar effort by Andrew Abela, which shows different possibilities depending on your purpose when showing the data.

Here is one by Anna Vital that is not strictly about charts but is interesting because it looks at visual analogies and metaphors that can help us think of ideas to visualize information.

If you are looking for a truly comprehensive reference guide on different types of visualization with charts and maps, our hands-down favorite is still the book Information Graphics: A Comprehensive Illustrated Reference, by Robert L. Harris. The 450-pages book is a massive reference encyclopedia with hundreds of entries, examples and cross-references about different chart, map and diagram types, as well as statistical and visualization methods. The latest edition is from 2000 but it’s still the “Bible” of reference on visualization.

 

 

Workshops and speaking in Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore

Last month I had a great long trip to Asia with some speaking engagements and workshops.

The first destination was Beijing. My friend Ying Wu, Visual Director at People’s Daily Media Innovation (PDMI) and an internationally recognized designer (formerly of the Boston Globe) invited me to speak about infographics and data visualization at People’s Daily headquarters. People’s Daily is the largest newspaper of China, and the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, providing direct information on government policies and viewpoints.

I was struck at how technologically advanced People’s Daily and PDMI are. The new headquarters of People’s Daily in Beijing’s Chaoyang District are one of the most modern newsrooms I’ve had the pleasure to visit. I had a video interview and then a nice talk and conversation with staffers discussing infographics, data, the challenges of their work and where they are headed.

The following day I visited the Communication University of China (CUC), the top journalism school in China. Students there had great interest in news infographics and data journalism, and they asked really good questions.

After Beijing, I traveled to Shanghai to conduct a two-day workshop for DBS Bank staff. We had been working with DBS with similar workshops in Singapore, Hong Kong, Jakarta, and Mumbai before. The idea is to show the value of infographics and data visualization as a tool to bring insight, clarity and communicate complex information and data in a visually engaging and revealing way, both to internal stakeholders and to the general public.

The last stop was in Singapore. We were there once again (9th time, I think) teaching a public workshop on infographics hosted by our friends of Methodology (they also organize the DBS workshops). Methodology develops great education programs, workshops, conference and media about creative ideas and design processes.

The final two days in Singapore I had the opportunity to conduct a workshop on interactive  /mobile infographics for staff working at the different media publications of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). SPH is the publisher of The Straits Times, Singapore’s largest newspaper (founded in 1845) and clearly one of the best in South East Asia. They do excellent infographics and dataviz both in print and online. It was great to spend time with them as well as with members of Lianhe Zaobao (the flagship Chinese newspaper in Singapore), The Business Times, AsiaOne and other SPH media organizations. The workshop was organized by WAN-IFRA, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

 

Free data journalism courses in Learno

Here is a very useful quality resource for anyone interested in data journalism, data visualization and journalism on the web. LEARNO.NET is a website with free video courses for media professionals, journalism students and “anyone with a public-interest mission and a journalistic mindset”. LEARNO.NET is an initiative of the European Journalism Centre (EJC), a non-profit foundation dedicated to strengthen journalism by providing tools and resources, including training.

EJC also runs DataDrivenJournalism.net, a hub for news, resources and networking in data journalism.

Many of the available courses are related to data visualization and infographics, with a focus on how to effectively work with data and produce compelling data stories. They range from simple introductions to advanced skills. Instructors are among the very best in their specialties, including Alberto Cairo, Maarten Lambrechts, Simon Rogers and more.

The list of available courses is short but very compelling. Three are very recent:
Cleaning Data in Excel, by Maarten Lambrechts
Data visualization, journalism and the web: mistakes we made so you don’t have to, by Jonathon Berlin
Going viral using using social media analytics, by Stijn Debrouwere

And these are the rest:
Doing journalism with data: first steps, skills and tools, by Paul Bradshaw, Alberto Cairo, Steve Doig, Simon Rogers and Nicolas Kayser-Bril
Charting tools for the newsroom, by Maarten Lambrechts (upcoming)
Verification: the basics, by Craig Silverman and Claire Wardle
Managing data journalism projects, by Jacopo Ottaviani
Google search for journalists, by Nicholas Whitaker
– Bulletproof data journalism, by Stijn Debrouwere

It’s great initiative and we are hoping to see more courses in the near future.

 

 

Turning doodles into drawings with Google’s AutoDraw

 

Many people who get interested in infographics ask us if you can create them without knowing how to draw. Definitely yes! Or at least the vast majority of infographics (data visualizations and charts, maps, timelines, graphics with schematic illustrations, and many others) don’t require strong drawing skills.

Something that is more difficult you would actually think is drawing simple icons or pictograms. They are invaluable to add some visual interest and to summarize categories and groups in tables, text-based designs and different kinds of infographics. They must be simple yet elegant and recognizable.

And speaking about icons here is something interesting from Google’s AI labs. AutoDraw is a web-based tool that turns your quick doodles into nice and elegant pictograms you can use with your designs and infographics. As you start drawing, the application will start matching your doodles to its library of objects, in a similar fashion to the auto-correct feature we are familiar with when we type text. It’s pretty accurate!

Objects can be colored, resized, rotated and moved. At the end, you can download a png file with your drawing or share it with other people.

The app is free and it works on any phone, computer or table. Google calls it “fast drawing for everyone”, and it’s one of their several machine learning experiments. You may chuckle a little at the simplicity of the drawings and yes, the tools is still pretty basic. But it’s not hard to imagine that with the current strong push in artificial intelligence and machine learning in few years we’ll see pretty amazing things in this field. Hopefully AI won’t put us out of business!. You can contribute to the growing collection of AutoDraw drawings here.

Here is video explain AutoDraw:

ArcGIS maps in Illustrator and Photoshop

Design and communication professionals should be really excited about a recent development in mapping: ArcGIS maps for the Adobe Creative Cloud.

GIS (Geographic Information System) software links location information in the form of databases with latitude and longitude coordinates to different types of information: demographic data to census tracts or divisions, election results to states, land use to natural or urban areas, etc. The user decides what layers (which may come from government or private sources) are going to be combined in order to visualize, analyze, and interpret the data to show relationships, patterns, and trends. As I mentioned in a previous post, GIS packages such as ESRI’s ArcGIS are rarely used by designers or news infographics departments as they are expensive, difficult to learn specialized tools normally used by GIS analysts and cartographers. With very, very few exceptions, those designers and graphics editors limit themselves to fairly basic mapping techniques that don’t take advantage of the power of GIS to uncover patterns through spatial analysis of large datasets.

The partnership between ESRI and Adobe offers ArcGIS functions within Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop via an extension or plugin. Designers can access thousands of data-driven map layers inside the Adobe programs as vectors or raster files, and play with colors, layers and styles to customize the maps using the familiar tools of Illustrator and Photoshop.

Creating maps with the extension is fairly straightforward. Without leaving Illustrator and Photoshop you define the area extent, size and scale of the base map, then search for data map layers (street maps, political boundaries, terrain, satellite images, election data, demographic information, economic indicators, environmental, etc), and finally you add/download the map to your Adobe workspace. It’s then already arranged in layers and ready to edit and polish by manipulating colors, appearance and fonts with the usual Illustrator and Photoshop tools.

You can get the beta version here. It has been available for a while, and the first full version is slated for release in the second Quarter of 2017, with no specific date yet (it’s been delayed before). Some of the functions are clunky and/or slow, but it is definitely great news and I can imagine how in few years this may become an essential tool for infographics designers to create and publish advanced data maps. You do require a subscription to ArcGIS Online (pricing info here) to be able to sign in but there is a trial version available.

Here is an introduction showing the capabilities of the plugin and how it works, and a longer, more recent video with added detail:

All images by ESRI

 

 

 

 

Workshop for New York Life MainStay Investments

We were in New York last week doing a corporate workshop for New York Life MainStay Investments. The investment management company is part of New York Life, the largest mutual life insurance company in the United States, and one of the largest insurers in the world.

As with other clients we work with, New York Life MainStay Investments produces large amounts of complex information that needs to be communicated with efficiency, precision and an attractive design. They market securities and different financial instruments and meed to provide advisors and clients with reliable information about performance, risks and how different investments compare to others though a variety of brochures, factsheets, fund “snapshots”, online dashboards, PowerPoint presentations and so on.

In the two-day workshop we discussed the difference between insightful charts that help clarify information and the decorative presentations that add little value and are commonplace everywhere; content and visual choices, alternative approaches to telling stories visually, overall design issues, achieving style consistency across an organization’s output of charts and graphics, and more. We typically mix presentations with hand-on exercises that emphasize hand sketching, and also introduce participants to the creation of online data visualizations with Tableau.

For information on our corporate workshops, reach us at contact@5wgraphics.com.

New York Life Mainstay Investments is located in Jersey City in an iconic building right across Manhattan:

The views of the Hudson River and the Manhattan skyline are stunning!