Suchithra Sathiyamurthy on taking hard data and turning them into works of art
In the hands of number crunchers, statistics can become bhains barabar. Which is why they need illustrators and graphic designers to make them easy on the eye. But, it's unfortunate that most economic journals and annual reports haven't moved beyond school-level pie charts and bar graphs. According to UX/UI designer Suchithra Sathiyamurthy, it's because they still "use PPT to design. They are not designers as such. That's the reason enough thought isn't put into their infographics."
Sathiyamurthy, 24, a Chennai-based trained architect from MEASI Academy of Architecture, and a busy bee at Rillusion UX/UI Design Studio, is trying to change that.
She designs infographics for herself, and puts in as much effort as her day job, because the lines are blurred between her work and her hobby. "User Interface is a lot about visual design. [It's about] psychology and how people perceive information. I also read a lot of newspapers and I'm very curious as a person. The current state of infographics is so repetitive and mundane. So, I thought, 'Why not do this?' It's closely related to UI design, and it's like an exercise."
With Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, Sathiyamurthy uses her Instagram handle, @the_visualiste, to break down different data points. For instance, a national survey by The Live Love Laugh Foundation says that 47 per cent of people judge those with mental illnesses in India, while 26 per cent fear it, and 27 per cent support it. In Sathiyamurthy's hands, this takes the shape of a triangle, inside which is another triangle showing people trapped in their minds. The colours are tasteful: sea green, soft peach and muted gold, and the illustrations are like line drawings. Another illustration, which talks about the female labour force in the Indian tea industry, merges a photograph with the illustration of a tea leaf and geometric patterns. Their problems—insecure tenure, discrimination, forced labour, low wages, living conditions and maternity issues—get individual call-outs. "I collect data on my own. I try my best to see that they are accurate. I usually look at insight-and research-driven places like Nielsen or McKinsey. And, if available, government data. But, in our country, we don't get proper national data."
Suchithra Sathiyamurthy started designing infographics in her free time. Since then, she says, "I don’t take information at face value."
And, a lot in this data is lost between the lines. That's the basis on which she picks her topics, be it the health and ecological hazards of sanitary pads, or the gender disparity (1:6) in STEM in India. "If I see something that people really don't talk about, the data is available, but it's not in conversation, that's what I try to bring out. People are not really aware of what infographics can do. But, I think, they would really appreciate if something is done beautifully and aesthetically. It might sound superficial, but people only look at things that look beautiful. So, no matter what, you have to get that down first." In the same breath, she clarifies, "They don't really need to understand what I do [in terms of design], I want them to understand the topic. If they say, 'You know what? I never saw it in this perspective.' That would be the highest achievement for me."
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