In this interview with Federica Fragapane, learn about how she became an information designer, including her time in one of the top visualization design studios, then transitioning to freelance, and addressing a personal challenge that made it all the more difficult.
(mellow electronic music) - Federica Fragapane is an information designer based in Turin Italy. She has built a great reputation in the field has won a ton of awards. She's been doing it information design for under 10 years now, but it's really doing some beautiful amazing work. Federica welcome and thank you very much for talking me today about becoming an information designer. - Thank you very much for having me and I'm very glad to be here. - So let's start by going a little bit beyond that brief introduction. If you could just tell us a little bit about how you got here. what did you do? I know you went to school at technical and scientific school. Tell us a little bit about the beginning of your path into becoming an information designer. - So I've studied Communication Design at Politecnico di Milano and there during my last year there at Politechcnico di Milano, I focused on the information design field that they need the density design course. A density design is a research lab focused on the communication and visualization of complex topics and issues. And so by attending the density design course there, I really understood how Interested i was in data individualization and information design field. So after the course I also worked on my master degree in this field within this field, I work on visual exploration of organized crime in Northern Italy. Subject explore to the tools of text mining and data visualization. And then I started an internship at Accurat Studio. Accurat is an information design agency based in Milan in New York. And I worked there then for after the internship. I worked there for three years. It was a great experience. And then after a few years I've started working as freelancer and now I am a freelancer. - Okay tell us a little bit about that design background, and what you learned. So you worked or you studied information design. Is it really focusing specifically on that narrow field or really a very broad field in a lot of ways, would you say that you're a designer primarily or do you have technical skills? Do you have data analytics skills? Like, where do you sort of fall on the spectrum of design versus technology versus data? That's always an interesting sort of thing to think about for information designers trying to break into the field i think. - I'm definitely a designer. I've studied communication design. So design is my starting point. Then as information designer, of course I have to and I like deal with data. So I usually analyze them, I study them in order to better communicate them for some of the projects I work too. I also have the chance to propose the topics to be analyzed, to propose the data sets. And this is something I'm very interested in to doing. So I would say first of all designer and then of course I have to study the data too. And I'm not a developer, I can't code. This is something that people often ask me. So for static projects, everything all the pieces that you can see don't have a code behind them. But then when I work on interactive projects, I collaborate with developers and coders. - So that's really interesting to me cause first of all, a lot of people in this field, maybe they're much more technical and they don't have as stronger design skill. And that's fine. Like some people come from this end, some people come from this end. But it's really interesting to me that those, some of the static work that you've done, which is beautiful and some of it is very rich and detailed like I'm just seeing like from your behance portfolio, I can just see every time I've gone there, these large vector graphics illustrator pieces, with a hundred or 300 individual little lines. So you're saying you do those all by hand, they're all manually created. - Yes, For many of them there is behind a row graph that it's a very great free tools that allow to move from spreadsheet to (mumbles) files but for the more, let's say most custom ones, I mean I really draw them by hand with illustrator so patience is the primary tool I guess - I was going to say you must be very patient. (laughing) - Yeah, I am yes. But it's something I - Cause when you working on illustrator go ahead. - It's something I enjoy doing so it's part of what I really do and I really enjoy doing it. - Okay, that's good. So when I'm creating large pieces like that, I always write the code to generate the lines to do things and then sort of mess around with it make it try make it look better. But my work doesn't look as beautiful as yours and so, I think you know what you're doing. let me ask you also about your time in Accurat. So, Accurate is a very well known, very successful award-winning studio. I imagine you learned a ton there. One question I have about that is, I guess, do you think it's possible to replicate the experience that you had there first of all, at another studio? So if someone gets an internship in some random studio that isn't Accurat and secondly do you have to be an intern? Do you have to sort of learn under these masters like that in order to have success in this field? Or can you imagine another path where you don't go through a studio like that and still have success? - Yes, Accurat experience is pretty working at Accurat is as pretty unique experience, but there are great, data visualization studio, all around Europe and US, in which it's possible to replicate such experience and I definitely recommend a similar experience especially for a designer. It's really important to have the possibility of working in a field that can help you in learning so much as I did working at Accurat so i was there a few years ago and it was really great first of all, experiencing how they had been able to grow during the years. I learned so much, just only experiencing what they were doing and then working on them of course. I mean i was surrounded by very talented and inspiring people and working with them had a lot. Plus I think that also the responsibility the trust they gave me during the years really helped me in growing up my confidence as a professional. And I think that this aspect is a very important one, for being a freelancer for instance. And also it's important being able to manage your projects if you are a freelancer or so talking with the clients, being able to be a project manager and not only a designer. And this is something that I've learned there. So it's definitely a recommended experience. - That's great. So you wrote a medium piece about your experience and how you became an information designer and I thought it was great. I got a lot of this background information obviously from that your experience in school, your experience becoming a freelancer after Accurat. But there was one really interesting, an important part of your life that happened to you that I'm sure had a big impact on your personal life as well as your designer life. So if you could share that with our audience, and explain what happened and how that impacted you that'd be great. - Yeah sure, So in 2012 I risk losing the sight in my left eye for a coronary infection. And when I discovered it, the situation was very serious because at the time I was only able to see a white smudge from my eye and mostly I didn't know if the situation would have been temporary or permanent because depending on my reaction to the medications. And I spent many weeks under medical care. And as I wrote in my medium piece, there is a very distinct memory I have of this object period. A memory of me standing in front of an illustrated magazine every day. It was a daily ritual I would say, because I used to at the time, I used to cover my right eye trying to look with my left eye for the details that day by day emerged from the pages. They were daily tests that I used to do to check the situation. And test of course for me were very meaningful at the time. And I recovered most of my side during the months, not all of it there is still a small scar on my left eye that doesn't allow me to see completely perfectly, but definitely very well, I mean definitely I cannot complain and yes I really think that this experience had a good impact at first on my life of course, but then also on my approach to designing data visualization. So and impact also on my job. - Yeah, I loved it In the medium piece, how you drew, you sort of tried to replicate what you were able to see at different stages along the way. So how did that change how you design? How did that sort of progressive revealing of detail that you experienced, change how you see things and how you design things and how can you sort of explain that in a way to somebody who hasn't had this experience that might help them in their design process? - Yes during those daily checks all the details that were emerging as I thought for me were extremely meaningful. And I really think that my extreme passion and care for visual details really also comes from those moments. I really spend a lot of time, working on the details and before that also looking for visual inspiration. So a few years ago during that period i was looking at visual elements and shapes, trying to look for visual hooks to catch my side with, to see if my sideware was improvising. And now I do the same thing, but not for looking for improvising side, but for looking for elements that I hope can be the hooks to catch the reader's side. And this is something that it's very important to me. And I think that this experience helped me in deepen my focus on the connection between visual elements and people. So at first years ago, the connection was between the visual details I was looking for and me. At first between the visual details I look for in this inspiration phase and me. And then in a second phase in the visual details I design and the people who are going to read them. And not only detail and I think that one of the aspects where these impact emerges is as I told him the inspiration phase, because I really love to fill my eyes with visual elements visually inspiration to then to use these elements to design visual shapes that can help the engagement connection that I hope to have with the readers who are going to read my pieces. And this engagement is very important because I think can really help the reading and then the comprehension of the I'm talking about. So yes, it's something I think that this really helped my design approach. - Yeah It's interesting I interviewed Michelle Rao who had a very similar experience. She had, I think it was a chronic pain issue that essentially she couldn't work on the computer anymore. And so she was a graphic designer using computer. And so she decided she had to start working with physical objects and that's how she started doing these physical visualizations using things like dental floss and watermelons and hairpins and that experience also, it forced her to look at what she does from a different direction forced her to use different parts of her body literally to do that work. And so I wonder for someone who hasn't had a challenge like that, do you think there's a way to translate that for somebody else to say well you don't have to cause a problem in your life necessarily to overcome, but how can someone else sort of learn from that and take advantage of that do you think? - Yeah, I think that the important aspect is this connection One. So the connection between data visualization, the visual elements and the people that these visualizations are talking to. I really think that this is a good starting point for everyone. Really thinking about the people who are going to read our pieces thinking about this connection that data visualization piece creates. I think that data visualization is a very powerful medium. And so this is why it's important to always consider who is going to read our pieces who is going to read them and how the visual elements we are working on can have an impact on their engagement. And then in the second phase on the comprehension of the topics we are talking to. So yes, I think that's a good starting point can be really never losing sight of the people who are going to see. Who are going to read the visualizations we are working on. - Yeah, I think that's always the best advice for any communicator in any medium. It's never about you, it's always about your audience. And the phrase I always use you should try to channel your audience, try to really become them in your own mind as much as you possibly can and so I'm just sort of live now thinking, I guess when you had a problem with your eyesight and you couldn't see the way you normally do, you essentially could imagine seeing things through somebody else's eyes. It was almost like relearning how to see yourself. And so therefore almost sort of envisioning what it's like for somebody else. Not that somebody else has that particular issue. But yeah, I think that that's key. I mean really trying to understand your audience is the most important thing and I think it's a good lesson to reinforce. Any other final thoughts that you have? This episode is all about becoming an information designer. How do you do it? If any final words of advice you can share with our audience and by the way just so you know our audience, we definitely have designers, in our audience for sure, but we also have business people, sales people, I T people, it's a very broad audience in LinkedIn. So anything that can be accessible to non-designers would be great too. If you have any insights, - I would say, I mean studying of course then trying to see, what are the other projects in this field and not only made by designer but by other professionals and trying to understand why am I liking that particular project? What are the aspects of this project? That I am enjoying and how I can replicate them without copying of course, but just to try to see what are the effective aspects of the projects that have been designed in this field. And I would say practicing a lot and for practicing I also mean searching from topics, working on personal projects. I think it's something very important. And also working on personal projects dealing with subjects that we are passionate about and we are interested into communicating. I think I'd be a very good starting point to make practice and to start working on such projects, on data visualization projects and explore be curious. It's a cliche, but be curious. It's always a very good suggestion I think. - Yeah. I think that's great by advice too, about just being, finding inspiration, find things that you like, as you said, try to figure out what you like about it, and yeah, then practice, practice, practice and it get great. Well I want to thank you very much for joining me here today. I think our audience will find your story very interesting and very helpful for them. And for those of you who want to know, first of all, just Google Federico Fragapane you'll find her behance the portfolio, which as I said is really gorgeous, amazing work. And Federica also has contributed to a couple of books. One is an Atlas based on water projects, which I'm not sure of the details of, but that one's only in Italian. We'll share the links on the screen, and also another book a children's book and again both links will be on the screen, but definitely just google her. You will find some amazing wonderful stuff. So Federica thank you again very much for joining me here today. - Thank you very much. It was such a pleasure thank you.