Oliver is an award-winning motion graphics producer and associate professor who teaches motion graphics and design courses at UNC-Chapel Hill. He produces motion graphics for Complex Stories and is the owner of Elite Execution Design, LLC. Oliver has previously taught at Ohio University, Kent State University and the Poynter Institute. Before teaching, he held the Assistant Managing Editor and Art Director positions at the Akron Beacon Journal and was an editorial artist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Ivey is the Bel in KarBel Multimedia, a creative agency specializing in infographics and graphic design. A 12-year veteran of the newspaper industry, she has worked at four newspapers across the country, spending most of her career as a senior graphics reporter at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. In 2011, Ivey joined the University of Miami’s School of Communication as an adjunct lecturer, teaching infographics and multimedia design until 2015. She studies motion design at the Savannah College of Art and Design and is eager to graduate this June with her M.F.A. degree.
SND.org’s Greicy Mella chatted with Ivey and Oliver about synthesizing complex stories, advice for young designers and who inspires them.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE KEY TO TRANSFORMING COMPLEX IDEAS INTO COMPELLING VISUAL STORIES?
Ivey: The obvious answer it to try to simplify it as best you can. Draw it out. Ask yourself some basic questions: What’s the process? How does it look? Why is this relevant? When you’re done with that, look at it from a different angle. Could you approach it from a first-person point of view? Could you show this in a unique way? Do some research and see if there are any other similar graphics, and then ask yourself what is missing. Find that other angle, then brainstorm. There’s always more than one way to tell a story. It’s just important not to get stuck in a rut. Force yourself to try something new
Oliver: Strive to understand the essence of the story, extract the meaning of the core idea and then explore the best ways to convey that message with visual impact and clarity so that the viewer connects quickly and understands [the story].
I’M SURE YOU BOTH HAVE SEEN YOUR SHARE OF NOT-SO-GOOD MULTIMEDIA DESIGNS. WITHOUT ASKING FOR SPECIFIC NAMES OR PUBLICATIONS, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL A STUDENT OR YOUNG DESIGNER TO AVOID?
Ivey: Make sure you’re telling a complete story. I’ve seen a few graphics where I have too many questions at the end regarding the data or the story. I understand there’s a time constraint, but it’s important to tell a good, complete story. That’s where the heart of the project shines and if the story isn’t polished, then the project will show it. Also, avoid clichés where possible. Do you really need to show the same, typical illustration, image or graph? Do you really need the stereotypical b-roll video? Always question the need for the art that is chosen.
Oliver: Avoid the status quo with any medium or publication. While having a good level of respect for tradition, don’t allow tradition to be a stumbling block to exploration and innovation. You bring value to the table.
IF YOU COULD MAKE THE PERFECT PLATFORM TO TELL A NEWS STORY, WHAT WOULD IT ENTAIL? WHAT TYPE OF FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER WOULD YOU CREATE?
Ivey: An interactive-video mashup is one of my dream projects. I envision this perfect, all-encompassing product to tell multiple angles of one story. The interactive would be the shell — allowing a reader to dive into the subject and explore it through a variety of pop-ups, buttons and page slides. Where necessary, a video, motion graphic or infographic can show more detail as sidebars. The topic is key to this fully immersive project, but it would be so perfect as it has multiple components that are all shareable on social media.
Oliver: It would be multi-leveled, immersive and customizable to fit unique needs and interests on multiple platforms. The consumer would be able to input their specific information and interests that would allow the medium to provide a customized product and there would also be buttons for a deep-dive or shallow-dive.
WE HAVE A LOT OF STUDENTS AND YOUNG MEMBERS WHO HEAR WORDS OF WISDOM AND ADVICE EVERYDAY IN THEIR EARLY CAREERS. WHAT WAS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE THAT YOU EACH RECEIVED WHEN YOU WERE GETTING STARTED?
Ivey: First, absorb as much as you can. Sit down with other designers or artists. Ask questions. Get involved. Study all the work and ask more questions. Second, learn new skills. I tell my students all the time to learn multiple skills by branching out into other things. If you know graphics, then learn how to do an interactive. If you are interested in video production, learn how to edit. Don’t rely on others to teach you. Learn to be independent by taking tutorials online or pitching your own projects to produce. You cannot always wait on the job to teach you things, so take some initiative and do something on your own. This advice works for the veterans, too.
Oliver: It’s okay to work within systems and structures, but don’t be afraid to pitch your own creative ideas. Like George Rorick says, “Be productive, creative and relevant!”
WHO DO YOU THINK ARE SOME LEADERS IN YOUR FIELD, NATIONALLY AND INTERNATIONALLY? WHAT CAN WE TAKE FROM THEIR LEAD? WHO’S WORK DO YOU FOLLOW REGULARLY? WHO INSPIRES YOUR WORK?
Ivey: BBC was one of the first news organizations to embrace motion graphics, so I regularly follow their work. Their BBC Academy even has a great video that breaks down their philosophy towards visual journalism. I also follow The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have been doing more motion graphics since the early 2010s. NYT’s Aaron Byrd is so amazing, as his animations and motion graphics are phenomenal. Another person to watch is Bill Neff, a veteran visual journalist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. He built their motion graphics from the ground up with his 60-Second-Know-It-All Project series. Follow his 60-Second FB page to see his videos — they’re a good mix of serious and fun topics. Brandon Sugiyama is another name to look out for in the future — his background as a motion graphic artist for the film and TV industry will be a serious asset in the news industry. I can’t wait to see what projects he’ll turn out.
Oliver: For motion graphics, I follow two guys who are off the journalistic beaten path. Both Nick Campbell and Andrew Kramer are always exploring and teaching new, innovative techniques. For infographics I am inspired by the diversity of work that Killer Infographics does and the phenomenal growth that they have achieved in about six years of the company’s existence under the leadership of Amy Balliet.
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