Infographic case study: Die Zeit’s visual history of data storage


Hamburg’s stunning weekly Die Zeit is known for its sophisticated art direction, razor-sharp typography and a continued period of visual excellence unrivaled in the visual world. An important part of its visual report are its infographics. The weekly publication was one of SND’s World’s Best Designed newspapers this year.

Nora Coenenberg, one of four graphics editors on staff helps produce many large and small graphics each week, including a weekly science page. See more of their science page work here.

The graphics are produced in a variety of styles and approaches, but always smart and engaging and as sharp as Die Zeit is in all of its visual endeavors. Nora talked to SND about a clever visualization of the history of data storage, from stone tablet to DNA.

Where did the idea of doing a history of data storage come from?

In this case the idea for the graphic came from a student of the university I studied at (Hamburg University of Applied Science). We did a cooperation with my former professor: About 20 students were designing infographic pages as a semester project, I supervised the class. We printed several student graphics but decided against the one about data storage. The student had designed it in a very cool illustrative manner but the page was lacking some informational elements. We expanded the research and engaged a professional freelancer to do the page.

Take us through the process of making the graphic? Die Zeit has some wonderful large graphics, is there anything other publications can learn from how you go about conceptualizing, reporting, creating and editing these graphics? How often do they run?

Our infographics pages — which are published weekly in the science section–are conceptualized by a team of art direction, infografphic designers, and science editors/researchers. We meet each week to discuss ideas and topics, and to review sketches and intermediate results. I think it is very important to work closely together while regarding research and design, such that a comprehensible and at the same time beautiful graphic can be conducted.

When designing large graphics for other departments we meet in small focused teams respectively. But since there is no fixed page for graphics in other departments–and thus less routine–cooperations happen rather spontaneously and a little less structured as for the graphics in the science section.

The timeline and use of color are nice visual touches. Tell us how you go about generating ideas to tell these kinds of stories visually?

Of course there are some recurrent elements in our graphics–like timelines or other elements to structure information. Nevertheless, for each topic we try to find a special style for structuring the information. The members of our infographics team at DIE ZEIT advice and review each other during the design process regularly and editors also help to improve the graphics’ structuring and readability by also reviewing it several times. Often useful ideas are contributed by colleagues who are not involved in the work process directly.

There is a lot of information on this page, but it could have been a total information overload. How did you report the graphic and did you decide what to include and what to leave out?

Each member of our team–infographic designers, art direction, editors–checks several times if the information displayed  Is it  sufficient, interesting, and understandable? It is everyones’ routine to feel responsible for the content of the page, and everyone tries to give input until the graphic reaches our expected level of professionalism.

Die Zeit uses a wide array of visual styles in its graphics. How do you go about picking how to tell different stories and keep it “feeling” like Die Zeit?

Besides picking freelance infographic designers whose work we admire in the first place we try to supervise each graphic carefully — the design process as well as the information level. If a certain style or technique is not chosen optimally for a topic we sometimes switch infographic designers (as happened in the case of the page about the data storage). And last but not least, each graphic is finally edited and designed in-house, adding our type faces.

Here are some other examples of the infographic work at Die Zeit.


Jonathon Berlin is the graphics editor of the Chicago Tribune and post president of SND. Send any infographics ideas here.

About Jonathon Berlin

is graphics editor of the Chicago Tribune and a past president of the Society For News Design.

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