Federica Fragapane is an award winning freelance information designer from Italy. She designed data visualizations for the United Nations Environment Programme and Wired, and collaborates with the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera. Federica: ”carefully working on the design of a visualization can help in creating an engagement connection with the reader”.
Graphic Hunters: I have read that someone has to understand a visualization within seconds, others say visualizations should leave something to explore. What is your opinion on this?
Federica Fragapane: I think that it depends on the usage context, on the communicative goal of the visualization and on the potential readers.
During the years I’ve worked on visualizations with different levels of complexity, according to those main factors. There have been cases in which I was specifically asked to design visualizations that could be quickly understood and I focused my efforts in that direction.
In other cases, I worked on more complex visual systems, because the usage context allowed me to do it. When I design the visualizations for La Lettura – for instance – I certainly pay attention on designing a first main layer of information, but I also work a lot on adding additional narrative layers that allow me to not oversimplify the complexity of the datasets I’m working on. I use to do it, because La Lettura is a cultural supplement published during the weekend and readers usually take the necessary time to read it with calm and interest.
I personally love working on layered visualizations able to convey stories and information to be explored, it allows me to create a connection with the readers similar to the one that can be created with a long article or a short story.
What is the first most important question one should ask before starting visualizing the data?
In my opinion it should be: “Who am I talking to and why?” Designing visualizations means working on a communicative act and I believe that thinking about the people who are going to be part of that act can be a good starting point.
What is the role of design in a visualization?
I think that design empowers the communicative function of a visualization. It can do it in so many different ways, showing and highlighting insights, hierarchizing information and – in general – helping the reading process. Furthermore, carefully working on the design of a visualization can help in creating an engagement connection with the reader.
I really love spending time on the details, refining the visual elements of the visualizations I’m working on and asking myself what could I do to further improve them. I think that such a care can emerge from a visualization and can be perceived by the people who are looking at it, more or less consciously.
What’s the biggest mistake often made in visualizations?
I think that a mistake can be losing sight of the readers. When I work on complex visualizations I always test them, asking opinions from my family members for instance. They’re not data visualization experts and this is very important, because I know that their comments can really help me in designing visualizations that can be understood by as more people as possible, even in their complexity. And for this reason designing a clear legend and testing it is very important.
Who needs data visualization most and doesn’t know it?
I can say what field I would like to explore without having had the opportunity to do it at the moment: the medical and health one. I certainly can’t say that who works in that field doesn’t know they need data visualization, but I would be extremely interested in working and experimenting on it.
If you could choose one visualization that you can put in a frame and hang in your livingroom, which visualization would you choose and why?
Literary Organism, by Stefanie Posavec. I still remember the first time I’ve seen it, I felt completely in love with its elegance and uniqueness!
What is the most exiting aspect of your training?
I think that there are two particularly interesting aspects in my training session. The first one is the experimentation one: I would like to work with the participants helping them in designing visualizations that are not necessarily standard ones, allowing them to explore what could be the best way to convey the selected information and stories.
Another interesting aspect in my opinion is the possibility to temporarily detaching from the artworks and going back to them in a second phase, giving yourself the possibility to look at them with a new – fresh – point of view. During my experience as information designer, I discovered that a temporary detachment can be extremely useful in designing visualizations and deeply understanding all the possible aspects to work on.
My training will last two days and this will give the participants the possibility to experience such a process. There are so many elements in a visualization that an information designer can work on and – after having defined the main ones – I like the idea to give the participants the time to work on all the details and the visual refinements that – in my opinion – can have a very relevant role in designing a communicatively meaningful and elegant visualization.
Besides, who will attend the training will be also invited to apply the lessons learnt to a project of their own, so as to look at it from a new point of view.
What lessons do you want the participants to take home for the training?
I’d like to share with the participants the lessons that I’ve learnt during the years and to help them in designing meaningful visual narratives. Specifically, I’d like to focus with them on the connection that a visualization can create with the potential readers and on how to work on this connection during all the phases of a data visualization project: from the selection of the story to tell, to the design of an effective (and maybe experimental) visual model, taking the time for analyzing and refining all the visual elements that can positively influence such a connection.