kimberley crofts


an information and communication designer living in London

Reading the Times: the good and the bad (mostly bad)

Today I bought the Times as there were no Guardians left at the shop. I don’t buy printed newspapers much as they are mostly full of useless information that’s poorly spell checked and too dominated by celebrities.

Two of the lowlights today from the Times (not related to celebrities):

  • Green nail polish from Chanel is selling for £80 on ebay. This was on the front page, seriously.
  • Gordon Brown has a network of helpers including someone who is a chairmaqn – I didn’t know that word had a silent Q, but there you go (page 32).

That last pearler was from an infographic (download it here) squeezed into a tiny space at the top of the page between the ad and the story. I can partly sympathise with the ‘visual journalist’ charged with creating it. I imagine they were given the brief with about 10 minutes until deadline so there would have been little time for them to spell check (a task usually left for sub-editors but they have probably all been retrenched). I can also partly sympathise with them as I imagine the briefing process probably went something like this:

EDITOR: Can you quickly do a graphic to tart up this story?
VISUAL JOURNALIST: What’s the story about?
E: Not really sure, they haven’t finished writing it yet. But does it really matter? Just put all these names in it and then link them together somehow.
VJ: But that doesn’t actually explain anything
E: Why does it matter? Graphics are just there to make the page look pretty.

Part of the offending graphic

In my previous career as an editorial design consultant I often saw how underrated visual journalists are in newsrooms (other than at the New York Times where I have heard that there are around 22 of them). Their skills are often seen as secondary to that of word journalists and they are not given anywhere near enough time and resources to properly craft their graphics.

Good infographics take time to create. Good infographics explain and offer insight. They can support the story, or they can stand-alone. They should make sense, or they should not be used. They are journalism, not decoration. The Times needs to do better.

Lest you think I am being one-sided, there are many visual journalists out there who do not deserve the title. Just because someone is good at using Illustrator doesn’t mean they can tell a story visually.

If you are wondering what the good bits were from the Times today they were the story about a Royal Commission report that recommends traffic lights be switched off to save energy and stop light pollution (page 36), and a story about how the charity Fine Cell Work teaches needlework to prison inmates so that they can learn new skills and earn an income to help support them when they get out of gaol (page 40).


Filed under: editorial, infographics, newspapers, , , ,

Using graphics and photos to report and investigate the Darfur genocide

Last night we went to a talk at the Information Design Society delivered by Chris Campbell who creates infographics for the International Criminal Court in the Hague. It was a very interesting (but upsetting) look at how design is being used to aid analysis. He creates maps, timelines, and other graphics which are used in investigating war crimes. Since being employed at the Court he has worked on war crime trials from central Africa including Darfur and the Congo.

Campbell was initially employed by the Court on a short-term contract as they did not really understand how an information designer could assist their work. In fact, the first job he was given was to design some “Wanted Dead or Alive” posters as they thought that was the sort of “fun” job that a designer was interested in. The Court has since been convinced of the merit of his work as they are able to use his maps and timelines to succinctly outline the scope and scale of war crimes that would take hours if delivered orally.

All of the work he was able to show us was distinctly monotone. Campbell explained that this was a carefully considered choice as to use too much colour (especially red) would be thought of as too emotive. Sober design is design is respected, colourful and bright design is flippant and not suitable for the court. He is cognizant that by reducing murders, rapes, and mutilations down to a set of soberly rendered graphics takes the ‘human’ element out of the story. He has therefore started to add photographs to the graphics so that the human scale of the atrocities can be felt by the Court.

The photographs he showed us were taken by Brian Stiedle, a former US marine captain who was employed by the African Union to document the conflict. Campbell wondered how he could still be alive, but he is, and there is a film out about his experience. The film is called The Devil Came on Horseback which is the literal translation of the word Janjaweed which is given to the horseriding militia who support the military in carrying out the acts of genocide.

Filed under: infographics, photography, reportage, war, , , , ,

Shipping News

Where does our stuff come from and what impact does that have on the planet? This is the basic premise to a new open source project called Sourcemap which allows users to trace the supply chain for all the products (and their components) they use in their daily lives. It’s worth watching this video to see how it works:

You can search for the components that go to make up certain products, locate their manufacturing point, and then add them to a map which visualises the entire supply chain of that product. The ‘receipt’ summarises the carbon emissions and energy used in manufacture and transport of the product from initial source to final destination. Each component description can also include photos, videos and text.


This is a dynamic project which is in complete contrast to the rather static project being conducted by the BBC on their news site. Called The Box, it involves the BBC tracking a container around the world for a year with updates on a live map as well as videos and photos posted by the BBC and by readers (photo below from Alastair Blackwood).


What makes Sourcemap a better project, in my opinion, is that it is based on open source data collection and collaboration. Some may see the source material as less trustworthy than that from the BBC, but I think despite this it is a much more successful use of online media. It’s collaborative aspect is just the thing that the big media giants are hopelessly behind in harnessing.

Sourcemap also allows users to create their own travel maps, which would be just the thing if you were like Ed Gillespie from Futerra. In 2007 he and his partner travelled the world without flying and instead savouring the benefits of slow travel. You can read about it on their blog.

Thanks to Visual Complexity for the initial tip off on Sourcemap.

Filed under: environment, infographics, mapping, , , , , , , , ,

Niemann’s New York Cheat Sheets

Christopher Niemann shows us all how to master the art of living in New York by way of these sweet little graphics. Thanks New York Times.

It is nice to see that someone shares my feelings about Kandinsky.

“It is always great to visit the Museum of Modern Art, but I have pretty strong likes and dislikes, especially when it comes to paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries. And I have a hard time enjoying a beloved painting while being irritated by another, less beloved piece of art. If you happen to share my preferences, I suggest the following:

“In Room 1 on the fifth floor, stand exactly in between Gauguin’s “Seed of the Areoi” (1) and Braque’s “Landscape at La Ciotat” (2). Turn east, facing Room 5, and you will be able to enjoy two wonderful Klimts (“Hope II” and “The Park”) (3) without being annoyed by the pointless Kandinskys (4), to the left, and Chagall’s disturbing cow (5), to the right.”


Filed under: illustration, infographics, , , , ,

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