Making data beautiful – Interview with Infogr.am founder, Uldis Leiterts

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Infogr.am: the world’s simplest application for making infographics. With close to a million infographics created and tens of thousands new sign-ups every week, it’s the fastest growing data visualization community in the world.

For this interview, we were able to talk to Infogr.am founder, Uldis Leiterts. Based in Riga, Latvia and San Francisco, California, Infogr.am now starts to explore the Japanese market. Uldis believes there is a huge opportunity for Japanese media companies to benefit from infographics, which in turn demonstrates a great chance for Infogr.am to expand their current market to Japan.

We asked him all about infographics, how he started Infogr.am and about his plans for a future of Infogr.am in Japan.

The power of infographics

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How did you get interested in infographics?
Before I started Infogr.am, I was working at a media company and journalists came to me and told me to make a small infographic for their recent article. Although I said it would probably take me a day, they told me to do it in the next two hours. So we did, delivered, but told them it wouldn’t be good. And of course it wasn’t, who would enjoy working under deadline pressure creating crap on the way? Then we thought, instead of spending two hours, let’s spend half a year. Let’s make an editor, so journalists can create beautiful infographics themselves quickly and easily. So that is what we did.

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What makes infographics so powerful?
Infographics are really easy to understand, because they are visual. They are easy to consume information. If you have text that contains some numbers, sometimes 20-40 pages can be shrinked to an infographic that shows the same thing. We also found that articles get 60% more shares when they include an infographic instead of a text full of numbers. Another example is in education. When kids learn numbers in mathematics, it makes a difference how they look at them. 8, 32 and 64 can simply be digits, but if you display them in a graph, that makes them much more tangible. It sounds surprisingly simple, but that is a change in their mindset towards much more visual thinking and it changes the way they will see mathematics in the future.
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Infogr.am is very successful today, what sparked your interest in the Japanese market?
Yes, we have about 2 million users now and 120,000 infographics are published every month on Infogr.am. There is a total of 2.7 million infographics available and we recently launched a non-profit organization at infogram.org. As for Japan, we never really targeted any market before. In the beginning we simply created the software and a payment form and suddenly the first payments came in. Now, coming to Japan is really the first time we specifically go into a market. I believe there is a great opportunity for Japanese media companies to increase their revenues by using infographics. Since infographics can be understood very quickly, they create bigger engagement and more social shares. This makes more users spend more time on their websites. But before we commit to that market, we want to see an indication that Japanese companies are really interested in what we do. So in the beginning in Japan, we were doing a lot of meetings, sometimes up to eight a day to get to know everyone in the business. For example we’ve met Venture Generation, Egg Japan, Loftwork and Fuji Television.

With data literacy comes responsibility

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Great! How did those meetings go?
Sometimes we simply meet, but we also go to their offices and do workshops with them. Lately we’ve done one at Asahi Shimbun (one of the five national newspapers, based in Osaka) on “How to do data storytelling?”. In a two-hour workshop we split up the participants in groups of three. Every group then received a government report, a huge amount of data that they wouldn’t even be able to read in these two hours. Nevertheless, every group is supposed to create one infographic in the end. Any participant in a group takes one of the three roles: “Data journalist”, “designer” and “storyteller”. It’s exciting to see how different teams come up with completely different infographics solutions. 
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Tell us more about the storytelling part!
We strongly believe that data and story need to be connected. With a story, the data is easily understandable, which makes it more likely that people will share it. On the other side, when a story, or let’s say a good journalistic article is backed by data, that increases its credibility. There are two kinds of arguments people are usually making: emotional and rational. But when the emotional argument meets the rational, the emotional always wins, because emotions are much stronger. In our case, we can think of the data as the rational and story as the emotional argument. Naturally, the story is much stronger. But since data has the powerful rationality, we constantly ask ourselves: how can we make data become the story?

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Infogr.am in education

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In the beginning you were talking about education, can you go into more detail on how Infogr.am is involved there?
Yes, we are in contact with many different educational institutions. One of my favorite schools is based in New Orleans. They introduced infographics three years ago. Starting from kids at 10 years of age all the way up to the 12th grade, they use infographics in the classrooms. I have a tradition to call them once a year and talk with them about their experiences. Then there is a re-educational institute for adults who want to change their profession. They are basically taught how to write emails, how to create websites, and how to make infographics. Also, data literacy in education is another important aspect. With data literacy comes responsibility. It means that when you receive something that claims to include data, you should also question where it comes from and if it is correct.
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Very insightful thoughts! When can we expect to know more about your plans in Japan?
So far, we’ve seen a lot of interest from the Japanese market. Around November, we’re planning to launch Infogr.am in Japanese. Then we will also have someone here for the Japanese user support. Before we continue with further steps, we are trying to get some validation. We want to see the Japanese companies using our service. Knowledge-wise and financially, it is always risky to go to a foreign market, but so far, I’m very positive that we continue!

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About the same time when our interview took place, Infogr.am launched their new collaborative version Infogr.am For Teams.

Thanks again to Uldis for taking the time to talk to us while he was in Tokyo!

For more Uldis, follow him on Twitter and check out his personal creations on Infogr.am.

Uldis on Infogr.am: https://infogr.am/uldis

Uldis on Twitter: https://twitter.com/uldis

 

 


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