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Behind the Scenes of the First Nightingale Magazine with Its Creative Director

Enjoy an exclusive interview with Nightingale’s creative director Julie Brunet (datacitron) on how the magazine came to life. This interview originally appeared in #ThePlot newsletter.

The first print edition of Nightingale — the journal of the Data Visualisation Society — is out!

Since I received my copy last week, I couldn’t help but wonder about the design process behind it. How long did it take? How did the creative direction come together? What can we learn from it? To satisfy my curiosity, I asked Nightingale’s creative director Julie Brunet — known in the community as datacitron — to share some of the behind-the-scenes with us. I’m excited to share her exclusive interview for the readers of The Plot below. Enjoy!

Hi! 👋 Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your professional background? How did you become a data designer?

Like many data designers, I took a convoluted path to work in data visualisation. I have a background in literature and philosophy, was a French teacher for a couple of years, and then switched career paths to become a graphic designer. After five years as an art director in a creative agency in Paris, I became an independent data designer.

How did you land the position of the creative director of Nightingale Magazine?

I wrote a small article for Nightingale back in January 2021. Jason Forrest, DVS’ publications director, seemed to have really appreciated it. I later did a talk at Outlier 2021 where the Nightingale team was also present. After their big announcement that Nightingale was going to print, Jason contacted me on Twitter. He told me my playful and editorial approach to dataviz would be perfect for what they were trying to achieve with the print edition! He asked me if I’d be interested in the position. You can easily imagine my answer included a good amount of exclamation points.

How long did it take you and the team to design the print magazine? What was the process like? What did you like the most about it?

It took us a year! There were a lot of milestones: redesigning the logo, creating a new website, defining a creative direction for the print issues and then actually designing the whole magazine, plus an enormous amount of editorial and copy editing work… One of the most challenging aspects of creating this print version of Nightingale was the existing content. Usually, when you create a magazine, you start from scratch. You define an editorial line at the same time as you create its art direction; they work tightly together in quite a homogeneous manner. But in this case, we already had a lot of pre-existing material from a variety of authors and projects. I needed to find a balance between respecting the uniqueness of each individual piece and highlighting the eclecticism of a collective publication. Finding this balance between the overall style of the magazine and the singularity of each article was probably what I liked the most. Every article was a fresh challenge!

Your work is always very creative and innovative. How and when do ideas come to you? Where do you draw inspiration from?

My ideas mostly come when I’m in the shower or walking in the street — at times and places I usually don’t have access to pen and paper. I find it tough to pinpoint exactly how and why ideas appear, but feeding yourself with inspiring material is probably a key element to it, and inspiration is everywhere! The most interesting ideas usually come from outside the sphere of dataviz: art, design, books, nature, architecture, etc. This way, I’m sure to step aside and not just repeat something that has already been made in data design. Personally, I’m a vintage girl at heart, so I draw inspiration from the past decades — mostly graphic design and ads from the 50s. Lately, I’ve also been blown away by the design of vintage Japanese ads from the 30s.

Some of the stunning content visualisations in the Nightingale Magazine.

While we’re on the topic of creativity, could you tell us more about how these summary visualisations (shown above) at the beginning of the magazine came to life?

I really wanted to create some kind of meta-visualisation about Nightingale. For a dataviz magazine, it seemed mandatory! And I knew I wanted it to be a font-based visualisation because typography played a really central role in the design of the magazine. I brainstormed ideas, collected all the data on a piece of paper (like the granny that I am), and created these visualisations manually in Illustrator in a couple of iterations. As you can see above, the characteristics of a font (its style, case, size, weight, etc.) act as an encoding system in these visualisations. I had a lot of fun creating them and I’m really happy that people seem to appreciate them as well!

On a more general note, what do you think is the most helpful skill for data designers to learn and nurture?

That’s not an easy question! I think that a good rule is that whenever you learn a new hard skill (a new software, a coding language, etc.), you should balance it out by working on a soft skill (storytelling, communication, cross-field collaboration, etc.).

One last question — if you had unlimited time and resources to develop a data visualisation project of your dreams, what would it be?

Just one? I think I’d rather spend all this time and resources on multiple smaller projects with different people instead of one enormous undertaking. This is part of what I love so much about being an independent designer: multiplying the projects, the experiences and the encounters. So I would probably try to create:

  • an immersive animated data story online with developers,
  • a long data journalism piece with journalists,
  • an exhibition with the DataSuffragettes of course,
  • and write or contribute to a book (books are amazing, and working on one would be great!).

Big thank you to Julie for taking the time to share her experience and wisdom with us! To see more of her beautiful work, follow Julie on Instagram or Behance. To get your hands on a copy of Nightingale Magazine (selling out fast!), visit this page. Once you receive your copy, share it with the community using the hashtag #NightingaleInPrint. 🗞

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