3 Mar 2015

Interview met Valentina D’Efilippo


Valentina D’Efilippo is an award winning graphic designer with an interest for creativity and innovation. This April she will teach an in-depth, introductory course on Infographic Storytelling in Utrecht. She will focus on the data visualisation process as well as the potential for infographics as a storytelling medium. Valentina D’Efilippo: “there is a risk to put too much focus on the tools sacrificing the thinking and ultimately the solution”.


Graphic Hunters: Why do you think infographics are so popular at the moment? 

Valentina D’Efilippo: Beyond just data and words, infographics use images and graphical representations. These key elements – data, words and imagery – operate as a system for simplifying information, revealing new patterns, and producing new knowledge. Though they might not have always been called “infographics”, info/data-based visualizations have always been around. With rapid advances in both technology and the speed at which we consume information, infographics have become an effective way to grab audience attention and deliver complex information in digestible formats. 

In what way can a visualisation help to understand or to communicate information? 

Visualisation helps simplify complexity by showing patterns and data relationships. It connects the dots, and reveals stories that may be difficult to see in a data table. In some cases, there are existing relationships that are only revealed once the raw data has taken a visual form. Visualisation not only helps us digest and communicate meaning from a collection of data, but is also becoming a means to increase information’s memorability.  

I have read that someone has to understand a visualisation within seconds, others say visualisations should leave something to explore. What is your opinion on this? 

Personally, I think that a successful visualization should achieve both. Getting readers to decode the core story very quickly is crucial – especially, considering the pace at which we shift our attention between topics and devices. At the same time, once the visualization has successfully attracted the reader’s attention, it will ideally reveal a story with several layers of detail allowing user exploration.  

What is the first most important question one should ask before starting visualising the data?  

I’m not sure I can narrow this to one key question. Rather, I would suggest considering three questions that are interconnected: What? Why? Who? What is the insight of the data? Why am I creating a data viz or, in other words, what is the purpose? And last, but certainly not least, who is my audience and why would they care? When I have a clear understanding of these three questions, the answer to the fourth question ­– how  – will naturally follow.

What tools are important to learn? 

The tools I use most frequently are MSOffice Excel to investigate the data, and Adobe Illustrator to design. I sometimes use off-the-shelf prototyping softwares like Tableau or Raw. I do not code, but I guess, that it’s impossible to talk about data visualization tools without mentioning D3, a powerful Javascript library. And if I had to pick a tool to learn, I would learn D3.

It’s good to clarify that the class is not a software training class. Instead, we will focus on understanding the process and the principles. Creating good infographics or data visualsations is much more than knowing how to use an application. There has been an explosion in the number of data-processing tools, there are almost too many to keep track of all the new releases. This means that more people are able to access the field of data visualisation, but on the other hand there is a risk to put too much focus on the tools sacrificing the thinking and ultimately the solution.

What is the role of design in a visualisation? 

Design’s role in data visualisation is many things: structuring, editing, synthesise and prioritise and finally envisioning and delivering the data insights. Part of the design process is figuring out what makes the data set unique, and then trying to communicate those findings in a compelling form. Design principles help us simplify complexity, reveal patterns, create the right hierarchy of information, and connect with the audience.

What is the secret on how to balance functionality and beauty in the final outcome?

Data visualization is both an art and a science—and working out that balance can be challenging. Ultimately, we should avoid compromising functionality for the sake of beauty. However, depending on the purpose of the project, the form can play a more substantial role in delivering our message to our audience.

What lessons do you want the participants to take home for the training? 

I would like everyone to understand that the field of data visualisation is complex but at the same time extremely exciting. There are a lot of things you can do with data and collaboration is key. You can work with people who come from a variety of fields: journalism, design, coding, data science, just to mention a few…

Although becoming an expert in every aspect of the process is daunting, the field thrives on collaboration. This allows people to specialise, and really build your expertise in one key area.



De training Infographic Storytelling staat gepland op 16 en 17 november.  Enthousiast geworden over deze training? Kijk voor meer informatie op de website en schrijf je in.




Spread van The Infographic History of the World van Valentina D’Efilippo. Deelnemers aan de training ontvangen een exemplaar.