Saturday, December 3, 2022

Handcrafted infographics, flow, and meditation

While editing chapters from The Art of Insight that are already finished —more than one third of the book— I realized how many of the designers I talked to favor hand-crafted techniques versus automated or programmatic ones: Sonja Kuijpers, Federica Fragapane, even several journalists and old-timers, such as Jaime Serra.

Many of them said that they experience flow while painstakingly moving, tweaking, and adjusting objects —either physical or virtual— for hours, corroborating my hunch that, as visualization is a craft before it is a profession or a science, it can also be meditative and therapeutic.

On the right you can see Jaime's most famous creation, a 1996 infographic about the Southern right whale's anatomy and behavior, followed by one of his beautiful drafts brimming with notes. I began my career in 1997, and seeing this graphic for the first time as a beginner was eye-opening: “Wait, you can draw things for news graphics by hand?” Good times.

In the past 25 years I haven't made many manual illustrations for my graphics. Perhaps because I was educated in the strictures and tight deadlines of newspapers, I've always preferred to use 3D software or vector programs such as Adobe Illustrator.

Still, I do draw. I draw during virtual meetings, as it helps me concentrate. Some evenings, after all daily chores have been taken care of, I sit at the drafting table in my office and draw historically and archeologically accurate scenes, diagrams, and maps of the Late Antiquity Mediterranean world while listening to podcasts about history or tabletop games. It's a way to quiet thoughts, to instead be fully aware of the present moment and, as a consequence, to bring the mind to a peaceful state: