Amanda Montañez

"One of the trends in journalism is the integration of infographics into stories"

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Amanda Montañez is a graphics editor at Scientific American in New York City, where she has worked in digital and print media since 2015, producing and art directing information graphics and occasionally writing content for the magazine. She has a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Smith College and a master’s in biomedical communications from the University of Toronto. Before starting in journalism, she worked as a freelance medical illustrator.

Your definition for “infographics”
Infographics are visual tools to help define, describe, or deepen the understanding of a concept, process, or set of data. More than just images, they are designed to work with text to communicate information clearly and accurately.

Which are your obligatory references?
Of course it depends on the project, and in many cases my primary references are scientific papers. Some of my favorite references are actually sketches by expert authors, because they can communicate so much about how the expert understands the topic. But here are a few general resources I keep going back to:
For inspiration, I tend to look at past Scientific American graphics, as well as work by the New York Times, Reuters, National Geographic, etc. And of course past award-winners from Malofiej.

Is there any special project that you would like to highlight/stand out?
This is sort of a humble little project, but for me it stands out as a strong example of the type of quick-turnaround news graphics that I really enjoy working on at Scientific American:

How is your work process?
The general workflow for print graphics is: research → concept sketch → review → assignment → tight sketch → review/fact check → final.
The images below show an example of what the three visual stages look like.




How was your first “immersion” in this fascinating world of visualization?
I went to graduate school for medical illustration, and that was the first time I was really immersed in the world of information graphics. It was very instructive because I ended up referring to a lot of illustrations—as well as real-life specimens—in order to learn about the structure and function of the human body. And I did a lot of drawing as part of my study of anatomy, as well as for my coursework. I also dipped my toe into data visualization at that time, as part of my master’s research project, which involved visualizing medical risks associated with pregnancy.

Do you have any particular goal to face in 2020 interns of visualization?
I’m hoping to bring Scientific American’s digital graphics to a new level. Many of our best graphics are first conceived for print, and then reformatted for desktop and mobile viewing. I’d like to prioritize the digital experience more than we have in the past.

What kind of data or information do you dream about visualising in a graphic? 
There are many things I’d love to visualize, but I am especially interested in issues of pregnancy and birth. For example, I recently developed an interactive visualization about the costs associated with hospital birth in the U.S. However, I could only find data on how much hospitals charged, not how much patients paid out of pocket (likely a more relevant measure for most readers). I would love to work on a series of visualizations breaking down the many choices and costs pregnant people face in the U.S.

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?
I think one of the most interesting trends in journalism right now is the integration of infographics into stories, to the extent that they do as much storytelling as the text, if not more. There is also a blurring of the lines among media—text, photos, graphics, audio, video—which I think poses challenges for everyone involved, but which holds a lot of potential for innovative and powerful storytelling.

Would you dare to say this is not a graphic or this is a graphic? Could you define a clear line?
In most cases, yes, I think it is clear whether or not something is a graphic. It may be something else as well (for example, animation, fine art, or even propaganda)! But if it is primarily concerned with communicating data or information, then I’m usually comfortable describing it as a graphic.

If you weren’t a graphics girl, you’d be a…
Perhaps I would be a medical illustrator and/or writer working in patient education.

What are we going to find in your speech in Malofiej?
In my talk I plan to explore the idea of “accuracy” in science-based infographics: how we as illustrators and graphics editors understand what it means to visualize something accurately, and how that can mean different things in different contexts.

What do you think?