Judging the World’s Best-Designed™ Newspaper contest

worldbestsnd34final

Last week I had the honor of serving as one of the judges for the Society of News Design (SND) competition to choose the World’s Best-Designed™ Newspaper. Along with my colleagues (Steve Dorsey and Denise Reagan from the U.S., Paul Blickle from Germany and Alexandro Medrano from Mexico), we chose 5 newspapers. They are (click on each link to read our impressions on each of the newspapers):

Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm, Sweden

Die Zeit, Hamburg, Germany

The Grid, Toronto, Canada

Politiken, Copenhagen, Denmark

Welt am Sonntag, Berlin, Germany

Although I work for National Geographic magazine now, I love newspaper design and I spent 10 years working for daily newspapers (El Mundo in Spain and The New York Times). Judging the design of a newspaper is a tremendously difficult task, as the design is the expression of a newspapers voice shown through their use of photography, visual storytelling, headlines, graphics, combination of long and short format narratives, hierarchy of elements, editing and a myriad of nuances related to how they best try to serve their readers.

We took 4 days, often working 12 hours a day, to analyze close to 300 daily and non-daily newspapers. Each newspaper submits five issues, which must belong to different months and include weekend editions. Language and cultural barriers are obvious. Asian newspapers are entirely different from Western publication in their design approach. We had translation when needed but ultimately is nearly impossible to do justice to everyone. It’s also important to point out that we judge only those newspapers that decide to submit entries. There are a few (not many) of the best newspapers that didn’t enter the contest.

This is the overall statement released by the judges at the end of the competition:

“What distinguishes a World’s Best-Designed™ Newspaper? A culture of careful editing of all content that puts the reader first — through stringent attention to detail.

Too many designers are not driven by the content in front of them; they’re just moving elements around pages. In the best-designed publications, that connection jumps off the page.

Quite frankly, it was easy to weed out publications in the first round of judging. So many papers couldn’t nail the fundamentals of typography, grid, white space, hierarchy, etc. — the basics we’ve been talking about for 35 years as a Society.

That’s not to say that there weren’t many excellent entries. Everything that made it past the first round was solid, but it takes more than being solid. It requires diligent and nuanced execution — and tons of personality.

It’s disheartening to see so many American newspapers that, after decades of discussion and education, still pay little or no attention to inside pages. Publications that spend a great amount of time finessing their covers but treat their inside pages like vessels to fill with commodity news until they’re full to the top are missing the point and the opportunity to be relevant.

Another disturbing trend: the lack of illustration and especially information graphics in so many newspapers. These are the tools that newspapers can use to distinguish their content from the pack and add context and understanding to their report.

Several fascinating innovations popped up such as new micro format papers (Diario DF, Mexico City) and the use of technology like augmented reality to enhance printed pages (Reporte Indigo, Monterrey, Mexico). Many Asian papers are starting to use Western design methods but are still maturing (Qianjiang Evening News, Hangzhou, China). Latin American newspapers burst with energy but some lack focus. In the Middle East, the quality of printing and production is impressive; we look forward to the evolution of their individual personalities.

In the five publications we selected, details elevated them from their peers. In these papers, every page counts. These staffs perform an extra layer of editing to refine and strengthen the final product.

Ultimately, these winning newspapers have been brainstormed, edited and curated for readers. They add analysis and context and serve to connect readers to their larger community.

Paul Blickle 
Steve Dorsey
Alexandro Medrano
Denise M. Reagan
Juan Velasco

Congratulations to the winners. Multiple other newspapers reached the final stages (Público from Portugal, Gulf News from the UAE, Svenska Dagbladet from Sweden, The New York Times…). All of them and many others are terrific in many ways but I think we ended up being very much on agreement about the final selection.

Here is a slideshow with a few selected pages of each of the winners:

Please visit the SND website to learn more about this and about the SND Awards judging that took place at the same time as the competition I judged. SND is a non-for-profit international organization for news media professionals and visual communicators (thanks SND for the use of the images in this post).

Special thanks to Steve, Denise, Paul and Alexandro, my fellow judges for their friendship and insights!

Finally, here is a random sample of photos I took during the judging:

Castle

bus

Editing DieZeit GRID2 NYTIMES DidNotWin Winners photo-28 Mix Asian Election Titanic

Intheair

Data visualization at Nat Geo, circa 1900

On January 13, 1888, a group of 33 gentlemen founded the National Geographic Society in the Cosmos Club, a select private club in Washington, DC. The group included members of the city’s scientific and intellectual circles and a few prominent explorers. The gathering was vividly portrayed, years later, in a painting by Stanley Meltzoff (below). The round mahogany table can still be found in our headquarters. The central characters in the scene are Major John Wesley Powell, hero of the battle of Shiloh and explorer of the Grand Canyon, and Gardiner G. Hubbard, a prominent Boston lawyer with an aristocratic white beard. Hubbard would become the Society’s first President and his son-in-law, Alexander Graham Bell (better known as the inventor of the telephone) would succeed him in 1897 after his death.

Click on any image in the post for an enlarged view.

The first issue presented no photographs and had a featureless terracotta cover (below). The iconic yellow frame would not arrive until 1910. The magazine was published at irregular intervals and was edited by four volunteer Vice Presidents, each responsible for Air, Land, Sea and Art. By the end of the year 207 gentlemen and two ladies were receiving, as Society members, a magazine that would become famous around the world.

Graphics and maps at National Geographic go back to that very first issue. With the concept of “data visualization” becoming a trendy one in recent years, sometimes it’s good to remember that not only the concept is centuries old (going all the way back to Scottish engineer and economist William Playfair, who invented the pie, bar and fever line charts in the late 1700’s). For one thing, “data visualization” in the early days had something that is so often lacking today: clear, simple, intelligible storytelling.

Five color maps illustrated an article entitled “The Great Storm of March 11-14, 1888″. Following them, a remarkably elegant chart shows the changes in atmospheric pressure registered by different vessels and land stations over the duration of the three-day storm, and compares them with the normal value. Technical but still a good chart even by today’s standards:

01.1888_Barometer_Chart**

The maps show pressure, temperature and wind at different moments during the storm:

02.1888_Storm_map**

In addition to numerous maps (which will be featured in future posts) black and white charts continued to appear in National Geographic at the turn of the century. A March 1893 article entitled “The movements of our population”, by then editor Henry Gannet, marks the first extensive use of charts in the magazine. It was not uncommon for an article to take the entire issue of the magazine, as shown in this restrained cover:

04.March1893 Cover

The story featured multiple charts and choropleth maps, starting with this comparison of urban and rural population at each census since the first American census, which took place in 1790 (the country’s population was then enumerated to be 3,929,214).

04. March1893Page23

This very original graph shows the evolution of the U.S. population and its ethnic breakdown from the first census to the latest at the time (1890). While “native” and “colored” population increases steadily, immigrant numbers grow exponentially, with a clear majority of German and Irish newcomers. It’s a beautiful, clean design.

04.1893_Population_chart**

Another graph shows a breakdown of the population of large cities, this time less successfully. The heavy, dense grid and the patterns chosen make the chart appear to move from right to left. The perversely literal gradient moves from “white – native-born of native parents” (in white) to “white – native-born of foreign parents”, then “white – foreign-born” and finally “colored” (in black).

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The next chart (below) looks at the rate of increase of white and colored populations, a smart analysis and the best way to compare the growth or decrease of variables with very different absolute numbers. Quite remarkable for something done in 1893. I would have done the same thing today.

The sharp decrease of both groups in the 1860-1870 is no doubt consequence of the terrible losses during the Civil War.

The choropleth map at the bottom show the proportion of African-Americans to the total population, by state.

04.March1893pg32

Another chart in the same story (below) offers an interesting comparison, paired with a graph showing immigration in each decade. Despite the up and downs, even the lowest data point signals a 10 percent increase over the previous decade, as the United States continued to attract immigrants.

Overall, the entire story is a great demographic analysis by Henry Gannet (1846-1914), an American geographer and founding member of the National Geographic Society and the United States Geological Survey. Gannet has been described as the “Father of the Quadrangle”, which is the basis for topographical maps in the United States.

04.1893

The chart below appears in the May, 1898 issue. Population increase is plotted against different measures of progress. Using both wealth and wealth per capita, and area versus population are indicative of the editors’ efforts to provide good context to the story of population growth. However, the methodology or type of units in the y-axis are not explained. The series appears to have been indexed to show the percentage change since the first data point (the only way such different variables could be compared) but it’s unclear how it all is supposed to work since the different lines don’t always start at the same baseline.

04b.Sept1898Page381

Another interesting chart appears in a May 1900 article about the most recent Cuban census data. The first chart is a nice percent bar. Some of the other follow an odd spacial distribution (which doesn’t make them wrong).

04c.May1900_page205

The wavy chart below is my favorite from the early days of National Geographic. A January, 1905 article on immigration included this beautiful work showing the immigrants coming to the United Stated every year from 1820 to 1904, by country of origin. Over a thousand data points are represented visually, and all numbers are included as well. The work is credited to F. P. Sargent, the Commissioner General of Immigration, but unfortunately the draftsman producing the chart is not mentioned.

05.1905_Jan_Immig**

A detail:

05.1905_Jan_ImmigDETAIL

Looking at old Nat Geo issues is always a source of inspiration. We had the immigration graph in mind when we used the same visual approach for this 2007 chart showing sales of different music recording formats over time.

reduxforjonathan

I think our immigration chart was very likely inspired by the work of Francis Amasa Walker (1840-1897) who was the Chief of the Bureau of Statistic in the 1870’s and created the Statistical Atlas of the United States (1874), a remarkable visual work based on that census. The statistician used beautiful, elegant charts. The one in the middle in the example below will surely remind you of ours.

walker-chart-nationaldebt

Another story in the same issue, entitled “The character of our immigration” by Z. F. McSweeny, shows the characteristic heavy grid of most charts at the turn of the century. It’s a pity because they are otherwise beautiful, elegant and clear.

05.Jan1905page6

The story ends with this little oddity about inmates of different ethnic origins. I love the hand-lettering and the curious grouping of racial divisions.

Jan1905Inmates

The samples above are just a quick, random sampling from the early 1900’s and even earlier. Today, our access to new technology and formidable amounts of information has spurred the many forms of the too prolific “data viz” field. It’s good that such experimentation continues. But do a quick Google Images search for “data visualization” and you’ll quickly see the state of affairs. Clarity in the transmission of information, which is the essential mandate in journalism, is not a priority for so many of today’s data visualization designers. A simple bar chart is just not cool enough. But if you think of it, since William Playfair first plotted values on two axis with ink and paper there is really not a lot that has been invented in terms of accurately displaying numerical information with precision, clarity and familiarity (which breeds understanding) for readers.

Artist profile: The incredible Kennis brothers

Few people, if any, have impressed me more during my career than the Dutch twin brothers Alfons and Adrie Kennis, also known as Kennis & Kennis. Specialized in meticulous, extremely accurate and awe-inspiring beautiful paleontological reconstructions and paintings, the talent of the Kennis brothers is as amazing as their personalities.

Adrie Kennis, Wilma, and Alfons Kennis

Alfons and Adrie started publishing in the magazine in the early 2000’s, brought in by former Art Director Chris Sloan (see Chris’ new company here). I remember vividly the lasting impression their series of paintings of extinct mammals of the Jurassic left in me, a couple of years before I started working for National Geographic. I wanted to meet them right away!

Adrie and Alfons work simultaneously in all their paintings in an organic process where it’s impossible to know which one of them worked in the different phases or areas of a canvas. Their feature textured white backgrounds are beautiful and the exquisitely lightning and sculptural feel of their figures reveals their technique: they first build every animal they paint as a three dimensional, small-size, clay model for reference of volume and lightning.

As it turns out the Kennis brothers are terrific sculptors and their anatomical knowledge is sought by natural history museums all over the world.

Most paleo-reconstructions of extinct hominids feel stiff and lifeless to me, but not theirs. The emotion and expression of their figures is unique. As examples, see their “Lucy’s baby” below. The playful 3 year old Australopithecus afarensis was our cover in November, 2006. Below it, the weathered face of a Neanderthal male:

I was fortunate to work directly with the Kennis brothers in the reconstruction of a female Neanderthal we created for our October 2008 cover. The story had it all. Terrific science (the neanderthal genome was being decoded, offering new clues), picturesque fossils sites in Siberia and Spain and the unfolding drama of a species being cornered into extinction in Europe as homo sapiens quickly occupied their former range in Europe.

Alfons and Adrie worked for 6 month on our female Neaderthal, in a meticulous process that started with the reconstruction of an entire skeleton based on the existing fossils of different specimens scattered around the world. I art directed from Washington, and visited in their amazing studio-warehouse near Amsterdam during the process.

Since the best existing reference for the thorax was a male specimen, Adrie and Alfons painstakingly disassembled a model of the thorax, shaved off a few millimeters off each rib and each vertebra and put it back together to obtain an appropriately sized smaller female thorax.

We worked closely with scientists at Duke University, the University of Washington in St. Louis and the Natural History Museum of London for accuracy. Despite the enormous amount of work involved in creating a life-size, articulated and scientifically accurate skeleton, at the end it would not be visible. The purpose was to serve as a base for the external layers of the body, knowing that the proportions given by the bones were right. The next step was to add all the muscles and skin, in layers of plasticine clay:

And this is the external appearance of the clay model before casting it into the final silicone figure:

The finished model incorporated real red hair of Scottish Highland cattle (DNA evidence pointed to many neanderthals being red-haired) and a carefully crafted outer layer of skin that included wrinkles and pores the Kennis brothers obtained by transferring skin impressions of their own faces into the model. Alfons and Adrie finally added black pock marks, a tan face tonality and reddened cheeks after studying the faces of Mongolian nomads and other populations that spend a lot of time outdoors in climates as cold as Europe was when it was inhabited by Neanderthals.

Being National Geographic, we couldn’t just photograph Wilma (our reconstruction’s nickname) in a studio. The Kennis brothers took her all the way to Spain in the back of their truck, and I joined them there along with photographer Joe McNally and our Creative Director to do a photo shoot next to the cave where some of the evidence was found.

The adventures of the photo shoot were best narrated by then Design Editor Oliver Uberti in his former blog. Among other things, we were evicted from a National Park by guards for conspicuously carrying a large naked female figure without permission to do so, and chased by a wild bull on the way to the cave!

And all of that just to show a cover and two other pictures in the magazine, plus the accompanying graphic I did with artist Bruce Morser. You must think we are crazy, and we do feel that way sometimes!

In case you are curious, here are three of the many sketches the Kennis brothers did at the beginning of the process. The first takes were too feminized and idyllic to my taste. We wanted a neanderthal female that was defiant and strong, as some of the new scientific evidence pointed to the fact neanderthal may have participated in hunting along with males, unlike homo sapiens.

I’ll finish with another painting by Alfons and Adrie for a more recent stories on extinct Australian megafauna. As in any art direction project involving this odd pair of geniuses, there were some heated arguments about the direction of the project, with me and former Graphics Editor Hiram Henriquez working on it from Nat Geo’s side. It’s not unusual for them to refuse ANY changes to their artwork but I see that as an expression of how deeply they care about the integrity of their artwork and the scientific accuracy behind, and we always ended up agreeing. Can’t wait to do it again!

Check the Kennis brothers’ website here, I hope you’ll love their work. Also, here is a video where they narrate their process for a reconstruction of Otzi the Iceman. This one was not commissioned by National Geographic, be we used a picture of the model in our November 2011 issue.

The stylish radial chart

Traveling in Saudi Arabia a few months ago I couldn’t help to notice there were many people carrying two cell phones around. Typically, one for personal contacts and another one for business. Indeed, Saudis boast a national average of almost two cellular susbcriptions per person. As the chart below shows (find it in our November issue), the U.S. lags most of the world in mobile subscriptions, especially developing countries that simply skipped the land line phase when phones became widespread. For this chart, Senior Graphics Editor Jason Treat used an interesting radial chart format:

I often wonder if readers often stop paying attention to simple charts, or whether they become invisible out of familiarity. This circular form is a pleasing design element and, in this case, a surprising and inviting way to present what otherwise would be a typical bar chart.

The three radial layers in the graphic show the number of mobile subscriptions by year, offering an additional layer of interest. For example, you can see the explosive growth in Africa since 2001 compared to Europe.

For the longest time in our production process, our chart looked mostly like the version shown below. We thought the different colors by continent helped codify and understand the information faster, but not true! Sometimes less is more. The three levels by year and the rainbow of colors were too much to digest in addition to the unfamiliar circular design. Well past our deadline, Jason was able to change the color scheme towards a more monochromatic approach. We also made a series of small edits that emphasized the organizing principle of the chart (the red lines showing the number of subscriptions) and de-emphasized the text notes around the chart, which were secondary content. Small moves like those are often what separate good from great graphics.

This type of radial chart is useful to present long data sets that would otherwise look a bit intimidating in a more conventional chart format. And the unique design allows them to carry the weight of a page as a design element when there are no additional visuals. The biggest shortcoming is that the rotated labels may be harder to read, and that’s something to ponder carefully. What do you think?

Here are two other examples, a couple of years old, by former Senior Graphics Editor Sean McNaughton, always a brilliant designer and editor when large data sets were involved.


COMING SOON To create a graphic about the amazing speed of cheetahs, we had the entire skeleton of a cheetah scanned to create an impressive 3D model. Read it later this week in National Infographic (provided I don’t lose power with the hurricane, which is very likely!)

The Mustang caves of Nepal

Watching Fernando Baptista, one of our Senior Graphics Editors, at work is a fascinating experience. The October issue of National Geographic features just another impressive reconstruction graphic born out of his endessly creative and perfectionist mind. The story is about a series of caves in the Nepalese district and former kingdom of Mustang. Although spectacular complexes of cliffside caves were already known in the area, a new key find was the so-called Tomb 5 in Samdzong. A powerful leader was buried there 1,300 to 1,800 years ago in a wooden coffin, surrounded by sacrificed animals, ceremonial objects and, mysteriously, a child.

Here is Fernando’s finished graphic, a photographed model painstakingly built with papier maché, clay, plasticine, wood, and many weeks of research. The map at the bottom is by Senior Graphic Editor Martin Gamache.

And this is the video Fernando and Video Director editor Hans Weise created for our iPad edition (for subscribers only):

THE FIRST IDEA The original idea was to focus on the cave city complex of Tsarang. Fernando created several pencil and watercolor sketches, but it turned out information on the interior of the caves was insufficient to attempt a detailed reconstruction. I love the look of unfinished and rough sketches. Today these are all drawn in paper or on the computer, but we have quite a few old sketches in the office painted with oil over canvas! and mailed by artists. I’ll photograph a few one of these days to show you.

FOCUSING ON TOMB 5 Our main consultant, Dr. Mark Aldenferder, was part of the team of archeologists and mountaineers working in the area. He pointed Fernando to the sensational find of the funerary cave complex of Samdzong. The first pencil sketches were made (above).

Fernando has a Fine Arts background and worked for Spanish daily newspaper El Correo for 14 years before coming over to Nat Geo. He is an exceptional illustrator. Fernando often creates small clay models just as reference for his illustrations. This allows him to investigate the volume and lightning and to find the best point of view possible. What others may do with 3D software, Fernando does with plasticine, clay and carving tools from the art store or from his kitchen. The model above was created for this purpose but when our Creative Director Bill Marr saw it, the concept was born. Why not create a larger, very accurate model of the cave and photograph it?. We thought this would not only have a striking presence in the printed page, but it would allow us to play with a moving camera and create a video for our iPad edition that would immerse the readers into the tight, claustrophobic cave space as they looked at the different offerings and remains.

Fernando and Senior Design Editor John Baxter worked on several layout possibilities. Two early examples are shown below. We thought we would have bigger impact on a vertical spread (the reader must turn the magazine to read it). At this point we are mostly dealing with hierarchy, flow of information and determining which elements will be essential in the storytelling and which can be eliminated or more effectively shown elsewhere in the layout. Usually we start with quick pencil sketches.

We were still planning to show the city cave complex in Tsarang (the larger block), but we realized this could confuse readers because the tomb shown in the main art is actually not part of that complex.

Fernando enlisted our talented art research intern, Fanna Gebreyesus, to dive into the details of the cave, and ultimately also to help build it. The large model wall structure was created in papier maché, using glue to hold dozens of layers of newspapers together. Here you can see it at an early stage.

To create the rock and earth texture, Fernando and Fanna gathered six different types of sand and earth of different colors and grain texture (from the park, from the street, from a weekend visit to Alexandria, VA…). Fernando’s wife Begoña helped eliminate the biggest particles with a cheesecloth and then they were sprinkled them around the cave on top a layer of adhesive spray.

To create the different mummified animal skulls found in the cave (probably ritual offerings) Fernando calculated the exact size needed, printed out photographs of the same species in three views (front, side and top) at the same size and carefully sculpted them in clay. To complicate things, we had to calculate how much the skulls would shrink after baking them (in Fernando’s oven at home!), which turned out to be about 20 percent.

The idea was to represent the cave as it would look around 20 years after the burial, with mummified skin still attached to the skulls. To create that effect, Fernando applied a thin layer of paper, glue and leather from an old jacket, and then he painted them. The metallic objects were made in clay, painted with metallic shine paint and then “aged” with acrylic colors. Fernando molded iron wire to create the low tripod that sustained one of the vessels.

A stunning gold mask covered the face of the man’s remains. After careful observation, it was apparent that there were traces of paint in the nose but also a series of thin lines around the face. Fernando pointed this out to Dr. Aldenderfer, suggesting a way of reconstructing the original design of those lines. After several rounds, the expert archeologist was really excited. It’s not unusual for us to collaborate with an expert as they investigate, helping visualize and solidify their theories.

Fernando used copper to sculpt the mask. To create the hood covering the mummy head (see the first picture in the post) Fanna brought a piece of ethiopian cloth, which Fernando aged with watercolors and coffee. Then Fanna sewed the mask to the cloth using metallic thread through extremely thin holes following Dr. Aldenderfer’s instructions.

The skeleton of the adult male was a plastic toy that had just the right size. Fernando applied the same aging technique he used with the skulls. However, we had to add the smaller skeleton of a child, also present in the cave. It was found laying close to the wooden coffin, on the floor. Fernando and Fanna looked for the right size plastic skeleton all over the Internet and in city stores for over a week, with no result. Utimately, Fernando decided to buy another plastic skeleton like the one he used for the adult, and then proceeded to cut almost every bone of the body,  (that’s right, manually and one by one!!!) shorten it, reshape it and reattach it. Insanity! That is how far Fernando will go to achieve accuracy in his reconstructions.

The row of beads that once adorned the mask of the chief turned Fernando’s office into a workshop for tiny jewelry work (below). I think he missed his work with large canvasses more than ever…

We kept looking at different layout options, but none of them was really convincig us. The one shown above had a somewhat clunky stacking of two horizontal layers of context information. It was too much work before the reader could reach the main image, and the lack of hierarchy given by so elements of similar size was apparent. On top of that, the very realisitc model could have been read as an actual photograph of the cave. At the end, we decided that it was important to show the edges of the model itself to present it as a hand-made recreation. The structure of the graphic (below) was now much simpler.

The wooden box that served a coffin (the original is shown below) was recreated by Fernando in wood working closely with the expert, as Fernando wanted to use the same assemblage technique to hold the four walls together with wooden rivets. We also recreated the decoration.

Our work with consultants continues to the very end of a project, and they are continuously sent new versions for revision. . Below is one of many files sent by Fanna and Fernando to Dr. Aldenferder to get his approval on the different details of the cave.

Staff photographer Mark Thiessen (below) made final photographs of our model with multiple angles and light settings in our photo studio. Here you can see the actual size of the model. The small plates contain the different types of sand and earth Fernando used to texturize the cave walls.

Most people are surprised to learn National Geographic magazine only has two photographers in staff, to do studio photography. Nearly all stories are shot by freelancers. But Mark is an award winning photographer that has done several feature stories for the magazine.

With a finished model, it was time to work on the video the video. Fernando had the idea of having the flickering light of a candle illuminating the scene to get a mysterious ambience and some motion in the light and shadows to bring the inanimate object to life. Here you can see him making a test, filming a short scene with his iPhone and a candle light. Ultimately, we decided that a hand holding a candle would be visible in the video. Without its presence, the scene would have looked all too real and perhaps confuse readers.

A new blog

Hello! I’m Juan Velasco, Art Director of National Geographic magazine, and formerly a Graphics reporter at El Mundo (Spain) and the Graphics Art Director at The New York Times. I’m also an information graphics consultant and speaker. I decided to start this blog to share a bit of the process, challenges and hopefully successes of creating art, maps and graphics for a broad, international audience. We combine journalism, art and design to turn on the light for our readers and transform difficult concepts into clear, transformative learning experiences. The Graphics Department of National Geographic is a multidisciplinary team creating award-winning information graphics, geographic and thematic cartography, scientific visualization, historical paintings, and anatomically accurate three-dimensional reconstructions of extinct creatures. We spend months producing original research and working with experts and consultants. It’s a unique process, often closer to scholarly research than to the usual reporting style in media. People are often surprised at how far we’ll go. We pour through tens of thousands of data points in spreadsheets and geographic databases to find the visual story behind the numbers and to map relevant patterns in global or small and remote areas. We painstakingly build every layer of muscle in the reconstructed body of a newly found hominid to obtain the right proportions. We hire satellite companies to redirect their eye on the sky and take the image of a hot spot in the world because it was almost right but not quite. We consult with ornithologists about the shape of an almost invisible bird in the background of a historical painting. The quest for perfection never ends. From rough pencil sketches to sophisticated final renderings, I hope you’ll enjoy an inside peek at what we do. Along the way, I’ll also look at some vintage art, maps and graphics and I’ll report from the field, from conferences, or share any ideas about art and graphics that cross my mind. All views are my own, and I will also invite colleagues and freelancers to write about their work. I hope you are interested enough to follow and I would love to read your comments!