How does the New York Times Graphics Department produce the fantastic work that wins so many awards? To get a taste of the secret sauce, all you need to do is track down their Twitter accounts and blogs, where they openly share sketches and talk about process. Here is a guide.
This list is roughly ordered by the amount of material each of the people listed below shares. While a few of them have blogs that link to their pieces on the New York Times website (which is pretty useful in itself, because they can be hard to find), I am more interested in the behind-the-scenes type of blog. I am listing people’s roles as far as I am aware of them, though I don’t know them all and I may be getting some of them wrong. Please let me know in the comments or via Twitter and I’ll fix things.
I have put together a a twitter list of New York Times Graphics Editors for easier following. Some of the accounts are fairly active, others (like Amanda Cox) are rather silent. Twitter is a great tool for finding people and getting a sense of what they are up to. Those who tweet also tend to respond to tweets mentioning them, so this is a good way of getting in touch, as well.
Kevin (@KevinQ) has two blogs, one with links to showcase his work and one that shows his thoughts and process. The more interesting, naturally, is the latter. Not only does he provide a great amount of detail, including some early directions that turned out not to work, his postings are also very enjoyable to read. His posting on the White House Visits vs. Donors graphic is a fantastic example, and it shows some of the differences in thinking behind the creation of graphics for communication rather than for analysis. Plus, it introduces the novel concept of the charting spirit animal. Other notable postings include the one on the Romney vs. Santorum vs. The Rest ternary chart and the Richest One Percent map, but they’re all great and well worth reading.
Jonathan (@13pt) is the creator of the Guantánamo chart that won Best in Show at Malofiej earlier this year, and the recipient of a number of other awards. His website shows some of his work, and he provides some context on the process that led to a few of them, like the Guantánamo chart (which has an interesting and very different predecessor) or his clever Minard-inspired drawing of a colleague’s bicycle accident. In addition to showing the stages of his work, he also talks about tools, which is incredibly useful information. The tools don’t do the work for you, but having the right tools at hand can be a huge time saver. If you’ve ever wondered about the answer to the classic Monty Python question, he has an answer to that one, too.
I have to say that I know very little about Xaquín (@xocasgv). I’m not even sure what his full name is, though he is credited in at least one piece on the New York Times website with his initials like you see them here. He writes his blog postings in both English and Spanish, which is remarkable. He has interesting things to say about the data processing and sketching that go into the preparation of New York Times graphics. Among the blogs listed here, he is the only one to also write critiques of other people’s work, like a horse race visualization about the financial crisis in El País.
Sergio has the interesting role of international graphics editor, one that I doubt many other newspapers or media organizations have. He is quite active on Twitter (@sergionyt) and he has a very interesting showcase/blog. While he is not primarily interested in visualizing numbers, he has done some remarkable work with maps and photographs. At Malofiej, he talked about this composite photo piece about the destruction in Lybia, and how he managed to collect information about what was going on. The description on his blog is highly interesting to read, in particular how he managed to confirm the identity of people he didn’t know in a country he had no access to.
Matthew (not on Twitter) runs a blog with selected infographics that he has created. Some digging also revealed a nice list of ‘bloopers’ that happened while he was working on things. They are fun to look at, and something that is unfortunately rare in the academic world: sharing accidents. They happen all the time, to everybody. But we tend to just fix the bugs and move on. How hard would it be to take a screenshot and post it? It’s really too bad, our work loses so much texture this way. Matthew also gave a great presentation on his process creating some of his work at Malofiej, where he was one of the judges.
Graham has the very clever Twitter handle @grahaphics, and also the same domain name for his portfolio. His portfolio site largely ‘just’ shows his work, though he adds some context by showing how some of his work fits into series or longer articles. The wage gap scatterplot I wrote about recently was also partly his work (with his then-colleague Hannah Fairfield, who is now at the Washington Post).
While perhaps the best-known member of the NY Times graphics team, Amanda is one of the least visible online. Her Twitter account is mostly silent, though her occasional tweets are as interesting as they are rare. I guess she lets her work speak for itself (plus she is also a rather active and sought-after keynote speaker).
Matthew (@mericson) is the deputy graphics director at the New York Times. He posts occasional but interesting things on his blog, and he also has a few interesting little experiments, like his clever countingtweets web app (which overlays tweet counts onto links on a website), his clean and useful weather app, and his name resolution web app and Ruby gem. Some of his blog postings are thoughtful reflections on common practices and his own work, like this one on the use of maps and when one should avoid them.
Finally, the head of the department: Steve Duenes (@Duenes on Twitter). He is fairly active on Twitter and while he doesn’t have a blog, he had some interesting things to say in response to reader questions a few years ago.
Did I miss somebody? I’m sure I did. Please feel free to add links in the comments.