Catherine Qian Ma

"I found that data-viz was such a magical thing that can integrate art, science and technology"

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Your definition for “infographics”
Infographics is an ideal tool of recording and archiving the ongoing world so that the public is able to explore the hidden world behind the abstract and complex information in a heuristic way. It also can a rational thinking process that requires our designer perfectly organizing information in a limited space. Moreover, it is an art that integrates the mechanism of the actual world with the living philosophy and emotions of our human-beings. 

Finally, infographics is something that I will devote all my life into and achieve the perfection.

Which are your obligatory references?
Professor Alberto Cairo, my PhD advisor in University of Miami. Professor Fang Bian, my master advisor in Tianjin University. Mr. Yiqun Ma, my group leader in Xinhua News Agency.

Professor Wei Chen in Zhejiang University, Professor Matthew Carroll in Northeastern University, Professor Eddy Borges Rey in University of Stirling, Professor Qiong Wang in Wuhan University, they have help me a lot in applying for the PhD program.

Mr. Zhimin Huang, Ms. Yan Lv, Ms Aiai Yang, and Ms. Xin Li, they provided me chances and resources to learn more about data journalism, and also help refining and promoting my works.

My best friends, also my dear colleagues, Jiaxin Liu, Zhe Wang, Yuhe Peng, Zihan Jiang, Xue Peng, thank you so much for being with me whenever I have difficulties. 

Finally, but the most, my parents, Zhiyong Ma, my father, Shiqin Chen, my mother. I love you forever.

Is there any special project that you would like to highlight/stand out?

The Songci Poem visualization project in 2019. Immersing in Song Ci, Singing Tenderly and Seeking Forever (宋词缱绻,何处画人间):

The project was done on cooperation of the Xinhua Data News and the Visual Analytics Group of Zhejiang University. In summer of 2018, by mining the gorgeous words in the Whole Poetry of Song, we mapped a colourful world belonged to the Chinese Song Ci poets during the 319-year’s Dynasty. More than 21000 pieces of works have been analysed, referring to about 1330 poets and tunes. The data was collected in dimension of poets, tunes, images and the emotions behind. Here, the interactive version.

How is your work process?
I’m doing both individual projects and cooperating with my colleagues. For individual projects, the most important thing is to be organized in both time and resources. For cooperations, we basically have a product manager (always me) leading the whole work process. The manager will firstly come up with a plan deciding the general idea of the whole data story, rough logic, data resources and goals, design styles….. Then, the team members, which normally includes a designer, a journalist (also the editor), and a data technician (sometimes the editor self) and a developer (sometime the designer self), work on their own tracks and discuss together to decide the final frame of the story. This process is always back-and-forth, keeping refining until the end.

I’m open to all kinds of methodologies, tools and techniques, thanks to my engineering background. Content analysis, interview, survey are common methods for me to collect data. Adobe suites (AI, PS), Tableu, Python, R, D3 are common tools and techniques I use. I sometimes use Cinema 4D, AE or Au when encountering with specific topics.

How was your first “immersion” in this fascinating world of visualization?
Actually, I have been a visual person since young. I learned to draw since age of 4. I learned technical drawing as an undergraduate in mechanical engineering. Then, it was on my advisor Prof. Fang Bian’s class Product Semantics in 2012, I firstly got to know the graphic semiotics and Roland Barthes. In 2014, when I was studying in the information design department in Korea University as a visiting master student. At that time, the data-viz, and the infographics, were used as a technique to present the user interface interaction or service process. Also, it was very enlightening when frame design thinking and generating design ideas. I found that data-viz was such a magical thing that can integrate art, science and technology, bridge the immaterial design with the actual world, and reflect the abstract information with visual elements.

Do you have any particular goal to face in 2020 interns of visualization?
As a PhD student, I will finish build up my first research project, about the technological construction in data journalism production. Also, I’m just stepping into social media related topics. As for my professional track, I plan to start my freelancer life, doing infographics and trying immersive storytelling techniques like VR and MR.

What kind of data or information do you dream about visualising in a graphic?
Visualizing classical music and visualizing traditional Chinese culture event. I’m still trying to overcome difficulties like digitalizing information, collecting and structuring the data.

Graphics departments at newspapers are evolving. Now they work on more complicated, polyhedric assignments, including different tools and narratives. More than a traditional piece of graphics… from this trend? Where our craft is focusing at?
When the graphics are used to communicate with the public, we designers, as well as the visual editors, should focus on the data sources that hit the public interests, reflect what is going on in the actual world and inspire people on the specific issues. Also, from a design perspective, our works should cater with the mass aesthetic, cognitions and perceptions.

Would you dare to say this is not a graphic or this is a graphic? Could you define a clear line?
No. I don’t think there is a clear boundary enclosing all types of graphics. Because the graphics are created based on data sources that varies in structures, formats and volumes. Also, the usage scenarios the graphics are targeted are different, leading to diverse and possibilities of graphics.

If you weren’t a graphics guy, you’d be a…
I’d be a pianist, Taekwondo player or an English-Chinese interpreter. And now, all these dreams are still my hobbies.

What are we going to find in your speech in Malofiej?
My topic is “Data visualization, reimaging the Stories of China”. What is it like in China through data storytelling? In this lecture, I’m including data storytelling cases reflecting typical Chinese events and traditions. For instance, what Chinese parents are expecting when considering their children’s marriage, why Chinese poems Songci is so appealing, and how to prepare a family cuisine in the Chinese Spring Festival. Also, I’m going to show you the emerging formats applied in data storytelling, such as mini video, data sketches and augmented reality. Meanwhile, I will introduce several interesting newsgroups and individuals as well as their routine working in this field. As a whole, you will see that although data storytelling is still in its infancy in China, we are trying every effort to make it unique and stronger. It will enlighten the journalism future. 

What do you think?