Digital works

2022: My Year in Graphics

Looking back at what was the year has become a tradition. Each year has brought a great diversity of projects and 2022 also meant a complete adjustment of life. In the midst of changing media, countries, schools, etc., these were my favorite details from the graphics that were born during my first year at the New York Times.

January: A new year, a new purpose

January was a tough month of transition, I spent a lot of time doing paperwork, looking for a place to live, and settling in at The Times. The learning curve on the internal tools and ways of producing it turned out to be longer than expected, but in my spare time I had some space to try out some new terrain processing stuff to start what would become almost a year in maps.

One of the things I enjoyed the most was playing with the elevation data to render images like the one above with Blender. It’s a bit of a fiddly setup, but once you’ve got it, it can spit out some really nice base maps.

February: Winter olympics ❄️

A month later, I was little more confided about the environment and the first graphics started to bloom. I enjoyed being part of the team covering the Winter Olympics. I learned a lot about disciplines that until this point I completely ignored.

Eileen Wu Jumping at the Freeski Big Air competition. Winter Olympics Feb. 2022.
Screenshot of the interactive feature. Photographs by The New York Times © 2022.

Some of the pieces included photometrics, 3D transitions, and basic vector graphics as well. The process was very effective, even though the competitions were at crazy hours for New York (like starting work at 3 am) the pieces were ready in a matter of hours, just in time for you to enjoy over breakfast. That was possible because of the collaboration of the team, many of us working together for each key competency, but also because these things were so much easier to achieve with the internal tools that the team has produced.

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If you haven’t seen it, or want to refresh your memory, you can enjoy one of these pieces here:

In my opinion, some of the coolest things were these almost-real-time pieces our team produced for social showing the performance of the skaters:

March: War.

By the end of February, the war in the Ukraine had arrived. However, in my case, March was the starting point of a coverage that has kept me busy all year. Hundreds of maps, 3D models, diagrams, illustrations and more have been the tools to inform our readers about the unfortunate stories that this ruthless war has spewed.

I’ve worked on dozens of updates to our breaking news maps page. This page is a quick response to events happening in Ukraine due to war or related issues, each entry delivered in a “small capsule” format that is published in no more than a few hours in a single shift.

Some of the maps from our coverage of the war. The New York Times © 2022.

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You can access the Ukraine maps page here:

Perhaps the most complex aspect of this page, in addition to the short times to create the entries, is the collection and verification of the information, which is often an arduous task. With the passing of the months, posting have become less frequent, but not because we left the coverage, but because many topics were deepened on a separate page since a small informative capsule was not enough.

April: The worst of human kind

Working in the news exposes you to know the worst of humanity. It’s true that in the coverage of a war you do not expect to receive images of fields in bloom, but sometimes it can take you to visit the lowest points of the human kind. The map below is part of a dark history of the bodies of Ukrainians murdered in the streets of Bucha, a small city north of the Ukrainian capital. These were civilians, who in addition to being killed in their own town, could not find respect and peace until the Russians left.

The New York Times © 2022.

Here’s a compilation of the coverage posted on twitter by the NYT:

The same week we were working on that piece of atrocities, a shooting in NY’s metro trains happened. I did a small collaboration for the piece.

May: A shrinking war and tons failed maps

As snow was melting away in Ukraine, the Russians were also forced to move away from many regions in Ukraine. That was the main story I worked on in April.

A way to show evidence of their shrinking ambition was to look at the fighting reports we had collected over months from official Russian and Ukrainian statements and other sources. That gave way to those little maps that open the story.

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You can access this story here:

May was also a good time to share a bit of behind-the-scenes work from the perspective of failure, of course. I collected failed maps from the first 5 months of 2022. Some were ideas I wanted to try while working on mapping the same areas of Ukraine over and over again, and other times just observations that caught my eye.

If you are into nerdy mood for maps, you may want to check that entry of infofails here:

Just because this has been the year of maps for me, I found some free time to continue exploring with terrain processing, this time adding unusual colored textures to the base-maps of my beloved Costa Rica.

June: Modeling

One of the things I enjoy the most of my work is the chance to diversify the things I do. 2022 was a lot a bout mapping, but sometimes like in June, I had the chance to use something else to communicate, in this case Cinema 4D to create models of Russian equipment, including this terrible weapon that breaks into small fragments and mini-bombs that probably still lie dormant waiting to detonate in many places in the Ukraine.

The New York Times © 2022.

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What Hundreds of Photos of Weapons Reveal About Russia’s Brutal War Strategy:

July: Satellites

Having access to so many satellites is awesome. Those things flying over us all the time are a great tool to provide evidence for our stories. By July, I was working in a piece about the Azovstal Steel Plant in the city of Mariupol. That factory was a stronghold for the Ukrainians. But the development of circumstances led that industrial complex to become a horrible trap for civilians who ended up trapped with no way out for months.

Base img. by Planet Labs / The New York Times © 2022.

I used a large image of the plant to point out key locations, playing around with color and contrast of the things we really wanted to focus on first. But maybe the most interesting part of that piece was the radar data. I have use this data many times, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of the Sentinel missions data. The map below is the variance in the readings over a range of weeks, once processed it can show you where the structures of a city have being physically changing, in this case revealing evidence of damage by the war.

The New York Times © 2022.

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If you want to learn more about it, visit the link below:

August: Taiwan

August brought Taiwan to the main focus. China decided to show its muscles encircling the island with military exercises so we presented a visual analysis of the particular conditions of Taiwan.

To do that I have the opportunity to work with my friend the super-talented Pablo Robles. I have worked with Pablo in different countries/media and I only can say he has an exquisite sense for design and graphics in general. We worked together for the first time at the NYT to produce these series of maps and graphics showing how China may choke the island in order to push it for an outcome similar as they did with Hong Kong.

The New York Times © 2022.

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If you want to learn more about it, visit the link below:

September: war, sketches and hurricanes

Seven months of war had brought a lot of stories and hundreds of maps. September was also a turning point where the Russians have no option but back down its war. Ukraine managed to conduct some effective offensives taking advantage of some geographic conditions and Russian weakness. 

I always keep an eye on satellites data when a key development happens, in this case the thermal readings onboard of VIIRS satellites showed fire spots matching the advance of the Ukrainians.

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If you want to learn more about it, visit the link below:


Towards the end of the month, a group of colleagues was working on coverage of Hurricane Ian. They put together the map below showing the intensity of the flooding caused by the hurricane. I collaborated with a very, very small part, but the work they did seemed simply impressive due to the magnitude of what it communicated.

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If you want to learn more about it, visit the link below:

October: More about the forces of nature

The Hurricane Ian caused a lot of damage in Florida, I worked on a piece precisely about that checking the before and after after the storm wiped out dozens of buildings. 

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If you want to learn more about it, visit the link below:

Our coverage included realtime maps maintained by our team, I did my self some of that. Some maps were easier to update, and some other pieces included a little more of customization.

November: the return of the pencil

In early October the bridge connecting Russia to the illegal annexed Crimean peninsula got hit by an explosion. The structure wasn’t just a Russian symbol in Ukrainian soil, but a key supply line so its relevance was enough to trigger a large retaliation over Ukrainian structures in the following weeks to the explosion.

After analyst reviewed the evidence, we prepared a piece showing how it was very a difficult operation to plan, if it was planned that way by the Ukrainians. I thought an illustrated piece could do the main explanation well.

The New York Times © 2022.

Learn more about the featured story

If you want to learn more about it, visit the link below:

December: Trenches and bugs

On Dec. 1st, I have this idea to do a new entry for the Ukraine maps page about trenches, short story is the piece grow with so many things I found, that we move it to its own page instead. I think every little thing lined-up to do analysis, I found a lot of evidence in radar data, great HD images from satellites with very few clouds, the military experts also give me great material from a few interviews a found a lot of good references for illustrations… all was set for a nice piece to say good bye to the 2022 with a final report on Ukraine.

Learn more about the featured story

If you want to learn more about it, visit the link below:

December also bring me a nice memory from the past. I did a small collaboration before I left Reuters a year ago (times flies wow) this December I saw it published by the mates of Reuters, it was so nice to see this published after so much time. So many great memories came back to me.

This project was full with amazing illustrations by my friend the talented Catherine Tai. Hipper realistic illos of beautiful creatures.

My 2022 list of graphics

There are only a few more days left in 2022, looking back at what this year has been like, there are so many sad stories. I sincerely hope that 2023 brings us all happier things to read. My thoughts are with all the victims of the war, and I hope that it ends soon for the good of the world.

Please consider visiting the links above, this is just a glimpse of what’s in these stories. For practical reasons, I have omitted many details and perhaps a broader perspective is necessary.

Here we are again saying goodbye for another year. I’m very grateful to all my teammates at The Times for the patience they all had with me in helping me through this transition year. To you all my www-friends, I wish you the best in this new beginning.

Animation by @Kirun via Giphy

See you all in 2023, Merry Christmas!

blogging, infofails

The mismatch

Earlier this year I spent some time learning about the world of phenology. After reading some scientific papers and doing some interviews with researchers, I just found myself getting more and more curious about it.

If you google Phenology it will return something like “Phenology is the study of periodic events in biological life cycles and how these are influenced by seasonal and inter-annual variations in climate, as well as habitat factors.”

Since we live in a single network, studying the effects of climate on species brings us closer to what will inevitably also affect us, but it’s also a way to connects us a little more with all those other living beings with whom we share this space.

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”

Charles Darwin

Darwin was right, after talking to a lot of people and understanding their passion for plants and animals, it is easy to understand the concern about the changes that some species are facing.

But moving on, if you have visited this blog before you may know where this is heading to… yup, this is another #infofails story. Here’s how all went wrong:

An unfinished illo for a blooming/ecological mismatch project I tried to run.

The embarrassment

The most embarrassing part of my failures is not facing your editor with a dumb idea, the hard part is getting excited about the information from sources and interviews and then watching time go by without you being able to develop the story you had in mind, especially if the people who spoke to you were super collaborative.

My first source in this endeavor (with whom I’m still embarrassed) was an Ecologist with the USGS. She shared with me some info from studies in the Gulf of Maine where she studies seasonal disturbances in marine life. In fact, it was she who explained to me what Phenology is. –Explained by a scientist who works on it.

My embarrassment also is with Richard B. Primack. He’s a Biology Professor at Boston University, I had a great conversation with him, he shared tons of great data.

You see, Prof. Primack has been studying and documenting the ecological mismatch for years, in 2016 he published a study where he explained how some birds arrived late to forage because spring is starting earlier. He show this example comparing the spring in 1850 describing the natural flow: first birds arrive, then leafs come, then insects appear, and finally flowers pop. Here’s a quick draft I did based on his publication:

Illustration of the Spring flow in 1850.
Sketches of the spring flow in 1850. Based on Prof. Primack’s paper published in American Scientist Magazine, 2016.

Makes sense doesn’t it? the observations show that these birds have continued to arrive on similar dates, but now spring is coming earlier. In 2010, for example, the leaves arrived earlier, so the insects also appeared earlier and spoiled the entire cycle for other species.

Spring 1850 vs 2010. Based on Prof. Primack’s paper published in American Scientist Magazine, 2016.

Staying with that same example from 2010, birds were observed arriving around the same date to find flowers when the insects should be just showing up. In other words, these days, for some species the natural flow looks something like this:

Sketches of the spring flow in 2010. Based on Prof. Primack’s paper published in American Scientist Magazine, 2016.

Prof. Primack along with many others researchers used Henry Thoreau’s observations to reconstruct the past of seasonal changes, that alone was a big story for me. So I went on and on, making more questions and asking for more data. And kindly they send me over tons of papers and tabular data.

Some of that data Prof. Primack shared with me included detailed records of plants and animals where he spotted those changes in spring and the struggling birds.

A data sketch I did with part of the data collected by Prof. Primack and a team of researchers merged with Thoreau’s records.

When I have a dataset that looks this interesting, I’m inevitably driven by ideas of how to show this in a story, it’s like a need of sketching data. At that point I need to somehow present this to my editors to push it forward and turn it into a story. Sometimes I spend time developing my ideas into sketches just to explain to editors what I’ve found interesting, but it’s not always as obvious to them as it is to me, so it’s necessary to write some paragraphs and accompany them with those images.

Some of the tree species that sprout leaves earlier. The steeper the slope of the red line, the earlier the leaves sprouted on average.

Just the right timing

That same process that I follow sometimes takes too long to put together a draft for my editors. When I came up with the proposal for this story, it was almost spring and it was hard to move a story past that window. That was just one of the things that spoiled the initiative I think.

It’s important to note that for those types of stories, I’m not developing the drafts over my daily work, but rather in free moments, which lengthens the process even more. But anyway, the lesson of this part was to keep an eye on your post window and not let your inner child distract you with what you find and diverge, maybe you’ll get the idea to the editors in time, it would be more easy for this to happen, who knows…

Adding more, more, more…

Certainly I was fascinated with the data and all the potential for a story, I was finding more and more data related to the same issue of animals struggling with the climate changes, the only problem was the this data was a little old already. Like this fascinating 2018 paper by Prof. Marketa Zimova + describing molting conditions in furry animals and how they struggle to survive when there is little snow and you are still covered in white fur. You may noticed the illustration at the top with a white hare on brown background which is kind of what they look to predators when there’s no snow around. Really sad the reality that these animals are going through, you know how it ends if you’re a white prey animal on a brown background.

A diagram based on the research data by Prof. Marketa from the University of Montana.

My second problem turned out to be that I was following the white rabbit into the world of tangencies. There is so much information on this that I started to integrate other studies and data, maps and things that led me to create a monster draft. A lot to digest from a news perspective maybe.

Earth temperature anomaly in April 2007. Based on NASA NEO. This event caused heavy damage to fruit tree crops during the spring of 2007.

A lesson from this would be to narrow the focus, crunching the idea down to its essentials can help early in the process. My mistake here was probably in choosing and editing the story I intended to show my editors. I added a thousand things on it, including interesting but a bit old data, maybe not the best selection for a news story.

While not everything should be breaking news, at least the focus of the story should be less scattered and consequently better defined.

Don’t follow the white rabbit. They tend to show you things that lead to a spiral of tangencies.
–A silly and perhaps inappropriate joke, sorry.
I hope you get the idea anyway.

We are experiencing climate change in many ways. In fact it’s easy to find news and research papers on early blooming and animal habitats threatened by seasons arriving earlier or later than they used to be and so many other changes that every species on this planet (including us) must endure.

If you’re in to news, I encourage you to talk more about this topic, worst case scenario don’t publish your story, but at least you’ll meet amazing people along the way and learn a little more about the fascinating world between us.

About #infofails post series:
I truly believe that failure is more important than success. One doesn’t try to fail as a goal, but by embracing failure I have learned a lot in my quest to do something different, or maybe it is because I have had few successes… it depends on how you look at it. Anyway, these posts are a compendium of graphics that are never formally published by any media. Those are maybe tons of versions of a single graphic or some floating concepts and ideas, all part of my creative process.

In short, #infofails are a summary of my creative process and extensive failures at work.

Are you liking #infofails?, have a look to previous ones:

01: Wildfires
02: Plastic bottles
03: Hong Kong protest
04: The Everest
05: Amazon gold
06: The world on fire
07: A busy 2021 kick off
08: Olympics
09: Floods
10: Doodles for news
11: Random Failed Maps