Thank you for being here, Adolfo. Let's get started by introducing yourself and what you do.
Thank you, Tom. I'm Adolfo Arranz, currently working at Reuters as a Senior Graphic Editor. Before this, I was a creative director for the South China Morning Post (SCMP). I started my career at newspaper El Mundo in Spain when infographics became popular. When I began working with infographics, it was a learning experience, from my first bar chart created with Adobe Freehand to now producing complex visual information.
Can you tell me about your career progression from El Mundo to Hong Kong?
At El Mundo, I learnt about infographics over several years and then moved to Hong Kong, where I joined SCMP. This is where I had the opportunity to explore my work in more innovative and creative ways. I was able to work on more significant projects and was given the freedom to explore and experiment with design.
Do you have a particular specialization or passion within the field?
I graduated as an advertising illustrator from the School of Arts in Valladolid, Spain. My career really took off when I got the opportunity to develop infographics at El Mundo. This was when infographics became widely accepted in newspapers in Spain, and El Mundo was one of the first newspapers to incorporate infographics into their stories. This was a significant shift in the industry, and many Spanish infographic designers, including myself, started their careers at El Mundo.
What do you believe has made illustration effective and impactful in your work? I believe it's crucial to have a good story as well as quality visuals. I come from a print background and making the transition to digital storytelling was a significant challenge. The visual material may be similar but the structure and formats can be very different. An important aspect of digital visuals is having a primary visual element. It's crucial that there are no competing elements to create a coherent structure. Achieving a good balance in the composition of all elements is vital, in terms of design and layout. This all is, of course, related to the story we're telling with our journalists. In infographics, it's necessary to identify subjects with colors. Although, I strive to maintain a restrained palette and avoid using a chaotic array of colors.
Often smaller publishers don't have the same resources as these big teams. Looking back at your projects, have you learned things that might simplify the process for beginners?
Resources can indeed be a limitation. For instance, if you're interested in using illustrations you'll need to learn and practice that skill, possibly separately, while developing your journalism career. You should constantly look for inspiration, not just from other journalists but also from art forms like comics and classical paintings. It's essential to establish a connection with all forms of visual arts - photography, movies, and fine arts - even if we're not exactly creating art in our profession.
The question is trying to learn from your experience for people who are starting in the field or who just simply have an important investigation and want to visualize parts of them.
A critical aspect that I've learned is the importance of fully understanding the subject you're trying to visualize. As visual journalists, we are explainers; if we don't understand the subject ourselves, it can be challenging to tell a clear and compelling story. Besides understanding the subject matter, having a clear structure for your story is also critical.
With most stories, there are always questions to answer. You can often find information to visualize and answer these questions. The trick is to identify the most critical or interesting part to illustrate. For example, let's take a story about a passenger flight that disappeared, the most relevant data could be visualizing the aircraft’s flight path and mapping the route, for example.
My approach is determining what could be explained more effectively through visuals rather than purely with text. Visualizing information can be tricky; it often involves explaining complex subjects in a way that is easy to digest for readers.
If the text provides several numbers, you can explore charts or data visualization. If an illustration or diagram makes an event or phenomenon easier to understand, then you need to extract this from the text. The usual process I take is to annotate, sketch, and gather ideas about the structure of the text and its paragraphs. This process helps to create an engaging and straightforward visual narrative.
Are there any tools that you particularly recommend? I find pencil and paper the most straightforward, human tools for starting the creative process. Regarding digital tools, I use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop extensively. For illustration work, I prefer Procreate on an iPad. I also use Corel Painter, Adobe Fresco, and Clip Studio Paint. I enjoy exploring and experimenting with various programs, so I often try new ones that seem helpful. Recently, I've used Concepts on the iPad, a program that lets you create vector illustrations with a rasterized look.
Do you use all these tools for different objectives or do you use them for experimentation? I use them for experimentation, but choosing a particular tool also depends on the task at hand. Sometimes, I select Photoshop for an illustration, other times, I prefer Clip Studio Paint. Clip Studio, earlier called Manga Studio, is excellent for animations and comic-style illustrations.
How do you reconcile using these software tools for illustration with the rest of the story? Is it more figma? Is it more illustration? Is it more of a storyboard?
For layout, I use Figma and Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator is crucial as we create most of our graphics in it. Even if there's an illustration, you need to present it with other elements, such as diagrams or text, Illustrator is indispensable. In most cases, the final designs and illustrations are compiled in Illustrator, especially when they need to be combined with diagrams or text. However, there might be exceptions depending on how the project is organized and who is managing it.
What are your favourite sources of inspiration? I find inspiration from various sources. I admire illustrators from the Golden Age in the U.S. and UK, especially those who created artwork for children's books and classic novels. I also love comics of all kinds. Beyond that, I get inspiration from modern artists and their work I see on platforms like Instagram and ArtStation. Also, any visual art form, including films, can be a source of inspiration. Even daily life and the environment around me, like the streets of Hong Kong, can spark ideas for my graphics.
It may seem obvious, but making your work personal is crucial, even if it's initially challenging. You can feel lost at times, but if you're interested in visual journalism, a good starting point is observing what major media outlets are doing.
Adolfo, it's been fascinating to learn about your approach and thought process. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. It was great talking to you.
It's been a pleasure discussing my work. I hope my experiences can provide some valuable insights. Thank you for having me.