Digital works

#infofails: A busy 2021 kick off

Yup, a new crazy and very busy year have started. So, let’s kick off a new season of #infofails from recent months:

Sand mining projects

To be honest, I never thought about sand before this series of projects. However, sand is the planet’s most mined material, some 50 billion tons are extracted from lakes, riverbeds, coastlines and deltas each year, according to the UNEP. All around this topic is fascinating from a visual journalism perspective, the figures are huge and so scary and sad at the same time. –So, ideal for some good stories right?

Early in February, we did this story on how Chinese dredging ships are swarming Taiwan’s Matsu Islands. If you haven’t see it yet, please have a look first and comeback to this post. [ link here too: ]

I did some stuff that we didn’t use because we turned into another direction, like the map of Taiwan at the top of this post, I was experimenting a little bit with colour schemes and the way of the relief, below are shown some closer details of Taiwan, Hunan-China, Hong Kong…

I also spent some time trying to understand how these strange dredge boats dig into the seabed, scoop up the sand, and then spit the material through a conveyor somewhere else. It seems that the Chinese used this type of boat often according to what I could see in many photographs of the Taiwanese islands affected by mining. But at the end we keep it simple with just the outside diagram of the boat as you can see in the page. Here’s a little detail of the inside that I didn’t finish completely:

I also got some estimated figures from Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council about how much sand the Chinese boats have take over the last five years. In the end we didn’t use it for the story, but the idea was to model piles with the same estimated volume and use the same style as the sand dredger above alongside a 2-meter man to give a better understanding of the amount of sand extracted. .

Some nice data I also was looking into was the GLAD ( Global Surface Water Dynamics ) those data sets are based in Landsat 5, 7, and 8 scenes, and they are so cool but didn’t use for the project. In that DB, you can see how rivers and water bodies in general have changed their shapes since 1999. I was looking at the Mekong river, but the data coverage is global and there are some really nice parts like this section of in Bangladesh:

In fact, I played a lot with these sand projects. From particles to animations, maps, illustrations … I made some fading castles for the top image before it ended up in a city made of sand as shown now. I made sand elephants, particles to see how different the grains are … LOTS of exploration to better understand the subject and I can say that anyone can spend years making visual stories about sand.

Other projects

I’ll keep this short since I already wrote down a lot about sand, let’s consider this tiny section as a bonus track 😆

Also in early January, we saw the story of the Chinese miners trapped inside a deep mine, it may looks like a huge simple illustration, but it has a lot of research behind to make it as much accurate as a breaking news story can be.

Illustrations sometimes can be way much more complicated than dataviz graphics I think. That, because you can’t argue with data, or print your own perceptions into something that it’s already simplified to dots and lines. Let’s make a little parenthesis here:

The illustrated graphics are more humanistic yes, but also complicated because you cannot detach yourself from those same parts that connect you with the information, those that you use to "humanise the information". I mean, you can't control what the people will see there, because it opens a wide range of interpretation. Not like strait forward dataviz isn't? Well, maybe not even in dataviz, everything have exceptions. Just look at [ this ] tweets by Francis Gagnon that sparked a lot of opinions in the visual journalism community about how cold and inhuman are "dots" representing people in a NYT graphic in the print front page. 

Ok, turning back to #infofails, in January also I worked in the Sriwijaya crash story, a straightforward breaking news story. The opening image saw some versions as we tried to tackle a sensitive topic and not give the wrong message to the readers at the very top of the story.

Some times I just want to run away from noisy things, have a look to the most basic and elemental thing in the visual I’m creating. So then I can go and add little clues for the eye. Doing that I think, we can find what’s needed to be highlighted, we can also understand what we know, but maybe not the reader isn’t understanding at the first instance by looking the graphic.

A map of Antarctica’s icebergs, just icebergs. Not land, sea or labels. Based on data from BYU Antarctic Iceberg Database

About #infofails post series:
I keep my beta graphics, those that never go public… Maybe they are tons of versions of a graphic or just a few concepts, part of my creative process. So, where all those things go? well, ends-up in #infofails –a collection of my fails at work.

Did you like #infofails?
Have a look to other #infofails Chapters here:

1: Wildfires
2: Plastic bottles
3: Hong Kong protest
4: The Everest
5: Amazon gold

6: The world on fire