Information design:
in practice, an informed theory

InformForm is an international platform for information design, which celebrates and explores both practical and theoretical experimentation within the field of design. It prides itself on showcasing relevant examples of work by students, for students. Read More

Interview: Ole Häntzschel

by InformForm

Madonnarama – Zeit Magazine

How would you describe what you do?

What do you wish to achieve with your work? My job is to visualise information in a way that is both aesthetically appealing and (content-wise) informative. I believe the best part of my job is explaining complex matters to the reader, opening the reader’s eyes. I aim to help the reader re-think certain aspects of Life.

A lot of your work is featured in magazines and newspapers, often alongside and supporting text. This must allow for some interesting dialogues and collaborations with editors and writers? What’s your experience of this dynamic as an information designer?

The ideal information graphic should not need much text to describe what’s seen. If the information graphic comes along with a text, it often is more like an analysis or an explanation of the content, not so much a manual of how to read it. Of course, I know exactly how it is supposed to be read, if I have been working on it for weeks. Thus, I usually test my graphics with co-workers and friends. On many occasions they don’t understand it—I’ve made it too complicated, and need to make it clearer. There are occasions when the real message or outcome of the data is only understandable to the editor when the graphic is completely finished. There was an occasion when I was creating two contrary pictograms for the terms “solid” and “temporary”. I thought about it for a long time, and came up with the idea of using a stylised house for “solid” and a tent for “temporary”. At first I believed it was a great idea. In the end, I realised that these pictograms only showed a house and a tent! The meaning was far too obscure and unreachable for the audience, it just looked like a house and tent and nothing more came from it.

Your work explores a wide range of diagrammatic, pictographic as well as illustrative methods of display. Often these work in combination with each other. What factors drive the visual decision making in your design process?

It depends on the kind of magazine and the kind of job I’m doing. I regularly work for a children’s newsmagazine, which is like a kind of Newsweek for kids. Those graphics are usually more colourful. I often find that a simple size-comparison has the biggest impact on understanding. Recently I made a map of the world highlighting the countries that spend the most amount of their GDP on military. Each country was displayed as a bomb, the size of the bomb varied according to the size of the percentage of GDP spent on the military. I could have just used circles for each country, but with using bombs it is clear what the graphic is about as soon as you open the page. I made the bombs in three different colours, which stand for the political situation of the country—one for “free”, one for “partly free”, one for “not free.” More playful subjects, for example a piece on Madonna’s career can be treated much more illustratively. A piece for a Swiss newspaper displaying various information on car-accidents— could of course not be illustrative, or funny. If possible I like to reduce colour. Black and white and one additional colour usually looks nice and won’t overwhelm the reader.

You studied visual communication at the University of the Arts, Berlin. Since then, you have worked in a range of countries such as Italy, Switzerland and the USA. It must be stimulating to find yourself in different environments surrounded by different cultures and visual languages. Does your location have an impact on your approach, and the type of work you produce?

Well, I am based in Berlin, which is a very creative and stimulating environment. I am happy to be here and to “breathe in” the arty and creative atmosphere. I believe it is always great to travel, and see other countries and cultures. It’s important, once in a while, to change things but also to have a few constant aspects that stay the same. But that counts for everyone, and every job. I always get lifted when I’m travelling.

There is a wonderful section on your website that contains only sketches. What place or purpose does sketching have in you design process? Why is it of importance to you?

I make almost everything with the computer and I love to have a break from that process and sketch by hand. I use sketches to try my ideas and find out if they are working, and to pre-layout a page. It’s also useful for showing an idea to the editor.

Finally do you have any advice for students studying the subject?

I believe data-visualisation has a great future, so students: study it! It is very important to have your own style. We all use the same software, but there’s so much personality to be put into an illustration or graphic. Although a personal style is important, the data being shown in a correct context is even more important. It is so easy to graphically bend or influence information but content should not be “adjusted” only to an optical idea.

Posted in Articles
May 14, 2015
900 words & 5 images

Atlas of Accidents – Sonntagszeitung and Le Matin Dimanche

World of Weapons – Zeit Magazine

Der Stoffwechsel


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