The age of infographics

Cheung Ka-man - Editorial Broad member, The Journalist

[Oct 2012 - The Journalist] The emergence of infographics allows information to be transmitted faster and further by reaching and sharing on the internet with the ‘word phobia’ generation. This issue of The Journalists interviewed free newspaper am730, which replaces news photos with graphics; iSunAffairs and The House News, which uses visual infographics to illustrate complicated concepts. We discussed how to introduce designers in the early stage of the editorial process, and how charts and doctored photographs facilitate information transmission. 

From the left, am730 vice-publisher, Danny Fung, creative director Spring Kwok and publisher Alan Lo
(Photo by Cheung Ka-man)
The glasses of Lydia Shum Tin-ha, the comics of Li Wang-yang and the calligraphy of Tsang Tsou-choi – am730 greets readers with surprises every morning outside MTR stations.

House News Art Director Ger Choi.
Danny Fung Chun-chiu, the paper’s vice publisher, says the paper wants to use layout design to communicate with readers – an aim established seven years ago when the paper first hit the road. “It is not necessary to use photographs only in news reporting. All kinds of graphics can be used to create unique covers and establish a newspaper style, so that readers will have their own feelings after reading it.”

Alan Lo Kwok-lun, publisher and chief editor of am730, said that besides reading overseas magazine, they would make reference to Best of Newspaper Design – a yearbook for newspaper. But most importantly, he said, is to allow the creative director to take part in news meeting.

“In the past, the editor told you what to draw. Now we have closer cooperation,” he said. Creative director Spring Kwok agreed that he enjoys a higher status and more freedom now, compared with the past when he was only regarded as a “drawing guy”.

“We expended quite a lot of efforts in the past. Now we learn about the news stories very early and can start working on it after a brief discussion among several colleagues. It is quite different from many broadsheets,” he said.

At the same time, online media have alternative ways to use illustrations. iSunAffairs, established last year, uses visual infogram to illustrate boring numbers or complicated relationships between businessmen and politicians. Executive Editor-in-Chief Zhang Jie-ping said with the emergence of new media in recent years, media should make use of different ways to present information. “For example, words should be used in feature stories or in relatively complicated stories; figures should be presented by charts… Pessimistically, infographics is used because fewer people are willing to read, optimistically, it is liberation of the way ideas are presented.”

The infogram designed by isunaffairs. (isunaffairs Photo)
The infogram designed by isunaffairs. (isunaffairs Photo)
Infographics titled “Why are Hong Kong people not happy?”, “Hong Kong political spectrum” and “Hong Kong newspaper political spectrum” are all famous works of iSunAffairs' Liang Zheng-ye, the editor who is responsible for collecting and organizing content of the infographics.  He says if these topics were presented in words, they end up as thesis with thousands of words. If they were put in facebook, they would not be popular. But it would be very clear and eye catching if they are put across in graphics. “Information is directly presented and it looks good,”

The above graphics were really widely circulated on facebook and weibo. Annie Zhang said the emergence of smartphones and tablets allow e-magazines to be popular and infographics to develop. It is convenient for Hong Kong people, who live a fast-paced life, to have a news story with both pictures and video available.

Besides using graphics, The House News, also an online media, uses altered photos to bring out their messages. House News Art Director Ger Choi explained that information design allowed people to grasp the issues easily. “Traditional media would not use altered photos. But we are not positioned to be news, so we can use some altered photos and photos with stances to bring out more messages,” she said.

“It is not necessary to use the traditional bar chart or pie chart. We can use the method of perspective to present where Hong Kong lands go. In short, we are using simple ways to deliver information to readers and attract those who do not care about the society.”