‘Infographics like Count von Count or Buffalo Bill’
Antonio Farach is the Infographic Editor at the Times of Oman and Al Shabiba, two papers in Muscat, Oman, that combined to win 154 awards in the 36th Best of News Design competition. Farach was a Civil Engineering student at the Honduras’ National University but quit after realizing that he was most interested in news graphics. Self-taught, he joined Tiempo, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, in 1998, and moved to Oman in 2010. Farach is a speaker at SND Creative Design Conference in Dubai later this week. We spoke with him about his approach and his advice to those interested in working in infographics.
Tell us why you got started in civil engineering.
Actually, civil engineering was not my first choice, it was my third. Archaeology was my first, but it was not an available program of study in my country. In 2009 in fact, after a decade immersed in infographics and one life made, I heard from the Ministry of Anthropology and History that the faculty would be opened, then, one month after that: a fateful coup d’etat shook the country and the faculty was not opened until 2011 I think.
After archaeology I thought about architecture because of my passion for technical drawing but the program also was not available at my local university, so I enrolled in civil engineering because of a taste for math.
Does a civil engineering background help in the infographics process?
For sure! The faculty where I studied has a renowned tradition in structural design. That helps me with my reporting. Many other subjects are interrelated with the infographic world: geometry, statistics, land survey, unit systems, equation solving, physics and many math fields in general.
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated my country with more than 10,000 deaths. During the pass of the storm I was assigned to travel along the most ruined areas and produce a series of graphics about the damage, which I showed by diagrams and 3D renderings, many of those damaged bridges and their failure types. I was proud that those graphics were used in broadcast news and people from different municipalities used them to work on reconstruction.
On another occasion I reported on the collapse of a giant Christmas tree which was supposed to be highest in that time. When I arrived at the site I inspected the mast and it was very easy for me to understand the failure. The tree’s trunk was composed of several tubes, which were joined by bolts and the failure was due to the thickness of the tube walls, which were too thin; failure came from the bolt holes. I stayed in the site just about 30 minutes, I didn’t have to wait all afternoon for the authorities to release a report. I finished it very early and the editor was very happy the day after (It’s nice to see in editors’ faces happiness for our work). I won my first SND award with that graphic in the category of Breaking News.
What advice do you have for self-taught infographic artists?
Read about basic concepts. There are books that explain visual journalism theory from many sources, data visualization, classical infographics, photography, etc. For me, to be tenacious helped me. To be a tireless researcher is one of my pillars and to develop an interest in many fields as well.
I have a double blade: obsession for perfection, that has helped me in many projects but ruined many others. There should be a balance on how deep the projects should be treated.
I cannot say that being self-taught is the best way to follow, it’s very hard and in many ways frustrating. After 17 years, I can tell that I do some things efficiently, the rest still being by instinct. There were many things that I was doing wrong and still there are. For me was trial and error but for many years! In 2002 I was lucky to attend a SND workshop of infographics and illustration in San Jose, Costa Rica. There, we had three legends: Jaime Serra and Jeff Goertzen, two big stars in the infographic world and the king of the scratch illustration, Ricardo Martinez. That event for me was a critical milestone in my career, before that I was a pseudo graphic designer who was more worried about aesthetics than the storytelling and the content.
What has been your most challenging work in Oman?
By far, ‘On The Ball’. The World Cup paper ball for sure gave me more white hair in my beard. The production time was very short, the amount of data was huge, the number of collaborators hit a record in the department (around 17 designers). The project was published in two languages and we never stopped doing daily graphics. Also ‘On The Ball’ it’s the most successful project in what I worked so far. Success for our newspaper because was celebrated by our readers and success for our team because gave us several gold medals and the still unbelievable Peter Sullivan award at the Malofiej.
Do you have advice for someone who wants to became an infographic artist?
Don’t expect to be an infographic artist; be a visual journalist.. I’m a person who like to tell stories before anything, with whatever I have in my hands. For some reason I tell those stories with numbers, diagrams, drawings. I started as an infographic artist (our generation grew up admiring diagrams in dictionaries) and then learned the ‘art’ of how to tell stories. An infographic artist is a designer whose final goal is to create a beautiful piece of art with data, but later, this person should evolve into a designer whose final goal is to tell a congruent and reliable story, through a beautiful piece of art. I should add: Don’t wait for the data to come from reporters or editors.
What: Creative Design Conference
When: 25th October 2015
Where: Dubai Knowledge Village