Show Don’t Tell – what I learned from Malofiej’s workshop

In March, I had to make a choice between going to Sendai, Japan for the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction or to Pamplona, Spain for the 23rd edition of Malofiej. It was a tough choice… Japan was something that I’ve been involved with and following for the past few years, while Spain was something new and a great opportunity to learn from and meet some of best in the business when it comes to infographics…. also another tough choice was sushi or tapas. I opted for tapas.

The theme for Malofiej23 was Graphics Straight Into the Vein and the gory yet enticing program cover highlighted the fact that it takes 23 seconds for blood to flow through the human body. With this kind of creative communication, how could I not be intrigued to go and find out more? And while the actual infographics world summit takes place over the final two days of Malofiej, the most interesting part of the week was the three days before with its Show Don’t Tell Workshop.

Participants from the Malofiej23 Show Don't Tell Workshop
Participants from the Malofiej23 Show Don’t Tell Workshop

The workshop was an opportunity to learn from three of the best infographics leaders in the business (John Grimwade, Geoff McGhee, and Alberto Cairo) and work with 19 professionals in the world of journalism (ex. BBC), corporate communications (ex. McKinsey), and design. The participants came from various backgrounds, including illustration, web design, data analysis, editorial, and communications with one purpose – how to develop an idea and improve the process of designing and communicating information visually.

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Every year the workshop has a field trip and this year was no different. Instead of going to historic or artistic places like was done in the past, we went to some place more interesting… a factory! Actually it was the Volkswagen Navarra factory, one of the main factories in the world that makes the Volkswagen Polo – one every 55 seconds. Our instructions were simple: take one issue (i.e. the tour of the factory grounds) and find a innovative, creative, and visual way to communicate its story.

Participants working hard on their ideas. One of the instructors said that it smelled like a design studio. I didn't get what he meant until I left the room. It was like a mix of humidity, sweat and stale air.
Participants working hard on their ideas. One of the instructors said that it smelled like a design studio. I didn’t get what he meant until I left the room. It was a mix of humidity, sweat and stale air.

With such a vague goal, it was interesting to see what groups came up with and it had nothing to do with pretty colors, the kinds of tools used, or what the finally product looked like. Instead the instructors wanted participants to go beyond their normal thinking and to focus on the idea. One group developed a infographics poster that showed the distribution and carbon footprint of Polo parts, another analyze the robots that put the cars together, one came up with an interactive website on the history and details of the factory, and another group came up with an interesting website that showed how a Polo was made.

We were called the "Super Group" from the start since we started with three members while everyone else had at least four people. The group ended up being four guys, but we still thought of ourselves as being super. Here we are taking a break after lunch.
We were called the “Super Group” from the start since we started with three members while everyone else had at least four people. The group ended up being four guys, but we still thought of ourselves as being super. Here we are taking a break after lunch.

My group was comprised of an infographics editor from Amsterdam, an illustrator and designer from Berlin, and a corporate communications consultant from Dubai. We came up with the idea of using the Volkwasgen’s data and the factory tour to develop an app that would provide a new Polo owner with a unique and personalized real-time update of the assembly of their car. Even though this was just about the idea, Volkswagen had us sign a confidentiality agreement so I probably can’t say more. However, I’m proud that my group’s idea was eventually voted the winner of the group activity… and doing it all with paper and pencil – our group was the only group that didn’t use a computer to put together the final presentation.

My personal symbol
My personal symbol

It was great to work on the group project, but the scariest part of the whole workshop was that we were given an individual project and with only an hour to work on it. Not only was I intimidated by all the people who were fabulous artists, but also that we had to present our own idea to the whole group. The project? To come up with a personal symbol, which could be inspired by an interest, experience or interpretation. The results varied with mostly hand-drawn illustrations, like mine above (eek!). In the end the person’s symbol who received the most votes integrated an origami structure with simple icons that represented her life – this was her first “infographic” showing that an engaging and innovative way to communicate can come from anyone as long as the idea is simple and clear.

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