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– 1% of the news in infographics …

Simplicity, Depth, Context and Memorability – Alberto Cairo

Last year Alberto Cairo created a bit of a fuzz in the infographics world, when he spoke of his opinion about the movie-streamgraph from New York Times, and called it ‘One of the worst graphics the New York Times have published – ever!’

Before going on stage, he told me he would not repeat that exercise this year. Instead he had chosen a somewhat more neutral topic to speak about. So he went back to 1854 and found the best graphic ever – the Cholera map by John Snow. And yes – this is marvellous work – if you put it in context of 150 years of age. But like Alberto said himself – most of you will know about this diagram already.

Luckily he used the cholera map to draw out some important conclusions. He especially wanted to point out how John Snow succesfully had constructed a diagram that was at the same time an information graphic and an information visualization. Alberto thinks of these two genres – not as different  – but as a continuum, where some work will fall mostly to the one side and some will tend towards the other. But he would like to see that you try to get both present in your daily work.

That way you give readers a tightly edited version of the information you’re trying to convey – you’re being persuasive – and at the same time you let your readers loose on the data and let them extract their own meaning from it.

Funny enough he thereby commented on the data-visualization-debate again, as one of the main gripes with dataviz is exactly that you miss the information-graphic part of it.

Alberto went on to describe himself as an infographics engineer – he thinks calling himself information architect is too much, because what we produce are tools – tools of understanding. And to be succesful as an info-toolmaker you need to know about the human eye-brain-system. Time to read up on the cognitive science …

When he showed some of the examples from his latest work he had chosen some of the graphics from the weekly diagram section in Epoca. They have just won an award of excellence at the SND-competition, and it was interesting to see how fast they can work and still produce very high-quality work. Like Alberto said -‘We don’t play in the same league as National Geographic. We are a weekly magazine, but we try to be very careful with what we present’.


In the video, you can see how Alberto stresses the importance of ‘useless’ beautiful elements in a good graphic. Again based on cognitive science, it has been proven that humans simply learn better and understand more, if the tools are well-designed and are aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Could be a hidden reference to the iPad-discussion, and why Apple is so succesful in selling their tablet?

The Giant Wave-graphic was produced in 4-5 days and looks impressive. Btw – you can see that Alberto, who likes to read a lot of sciencebooks to find graphic inspiration, is the boss at Epoca and at the same time writes the copy. Noone dares tell him, that his texts are too long 😉