A design/visual journalist needs to grasp a story and present it in the best fashion to aid reading and navigation, using images, graphs, charts, illustrations/caricatures or a virtual salad of these. These could be used as value-additions to the article or with very little text. Or it could be a standalone infographic requiring no article to support it. Peali Dutta Gupta, director, Peali Dezine, says, “It’s about assimilation of news and your knowledge of how to transfer it to a layman in an aesthetic manner, through visual impact.”
What do they do?
In Indian cities, lifestyles have changed, consumption patterns have changed. The reader is inundated with news and information from a variety of competing sources — TV, print, radio, the Internet and cell phones. Along with this has evolved the presentation of news and information, their treatment and organisation, and the role of the people behind it.
A 2006 EyeTrack survey by Florida-based Poynter Institute pointed out the critical utility of visuals as news vehicles. “Alternative story forms…drew a higher amount of visual attention, compared to regular text in print. This confirms the findings of earlier EyeTrack studies and other research that short text, especially with visual elements, is accessible and attractive to readers,” the survey found.
As Tarun Deep Girdher, co-ordinator for the graphics design course, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, says, “design is the differentiator” in today’s marketplace. “Content is something that the reader gets live. So, he picks the newspapers for the analysis and the way it’s written and the design — how the information he got on TV last night is presented and analysed,” he says.
Most publications — from serious newspapers to film or fashion magazines — now invest substantial time, money and energy in design, hiring the best in the trade when a new paper or magazine is to be launched or an existing one revamped.
In major professional organisations, the design team is there not just to put copy on the page, place the pictures and be done with it; the team is supposed to conceptualise a package and help in its execution.
Shorter attention spans demand immediate impact, and the power of design is well understood now. For example, when Uttar Pradesh farmers protesting against sugarcane prices ran amok in Delhi about a fortnight ago, Hindustan Times chose to use telling images. Ashutosh Sapru, national design editor, Hindustan Times, recalls, “We told the story through visuals and captions, in case you didn’t want to read the story.”
Compare a publication or magazine about a decade older to the current offerings in the market and you see an explosion of colour, images, charticles, graphs and illustrations. “Till about seven years ago, you would find hardly one picture after every two pages of Span,” says Hemant Bhatnagar, art director of Span, the American embassy’s bi-monthly mouthpiece. “Now, there’s not a single page without a picture, and the pictures are bigger than earlier.”
A designer has now become a design journalist or visual journalist. His/her role is summed up by Anup Gupta, group creative director, HT Media: “Earlier, s/he would just arrange the stuff (content) in a pleasing manner; today, s/he is required to ideate.”
Such a role requires awareness of world events, Gupta emphasises. A design journalist must have news sense and the ability to fully comprehend a report to figure out the best way to present it in the finished product. “A visual journalist leverages photos, illustrations, graphics and uses any one or a combination of these to tell a story,” he adds.
Employment prospects are improving as newspapers are rediscovering themselves, says Girdher. Besides, there are newer avenues, including in the web and electronic media. Peali Dutta Gupta, who set up her design studio in Delhi after working for major newspapers and magazines, says, “The demand has increased with the emergence of so many newspapers and magazines.”
The profession demands a lot in terms of practice and dedication. “Every graphic needs to have some extra zing, some unique selling proposition,” she says. “You should be able to tell what to blow up (highlight in a visual) and what not to, and be sensitive in what you are showing, for example, disturbing photos (of a riot or an accident).”
. Ability to assimilate information quickly and conceptualise under tight deadlines
. News sense to understand what is to be highlighted
. Drawing skills for making infographics and illustrations
. Talent for team work and coordination
. Ability to master computer applications quickly
How do I get there?
You can opt for any subject combination at the Plus Two level, though fine art and social sciences are preferable. (The Central Board of Secondary Education is offering graphics design, too, to senior school students.) After that, get a degree in fine arts/design in India or do a visual journalism course abroad. Many private institutes provide the relevant training