Infographics and Law Seminar

7 October 2012. On Thursday, September 27 INPRIS invited NGO-activists, designers, lawyers, journalists, programmers, government officials, nerds, educators and publishers for a seminar on Infographics and Law. Over 50 professionals from Warsaw, Cracow, Katowice, Poznan, Gdansk and other cities turned up to engage in 5 and half hours of presentations, discussion and drawing. Our goal was to discuss and promote the use of infographics to explain how law works.

by Filip Wejman

We kicked off at 11:30 AM with a half-hour of mingling over coffee, tea, biscuits and super cool music.

Read the program (in Polish).

The first block consisted of three presentations where we asked the speakers to give a general perspective on infographics that explain legal or social questions.

Alek Tarkowski, head of Centrum Cyfrowe, an NGO advocating the use of digital technologies for social development, discussed how his organization struggled with production of infographics. Centrum Cyfrowe has been working on infographics already for a time, and ran courses for NGOs on the use of infographics. Alek discussed two cases in which Centrum Cyfrowe produced infographics: visualization of the Polish budget, and economics of copyright in the digital age. He outlined the challenges that infographics pose to designers and NGOs as clients of designers. Probably the key recommendation was the need for fluent expertise on the side of the NGO as regards the input: ideas, procedures, data.

From the perspective of a social scientist, Agata Nowotny (Warsaw University and Poznan School of Form) explained how some infographics fail or succeed in delivering the message. At INPRIS, we wanted to know if there was hard evidence from natural or social sciences that infographics was efficient as a communication method - something more than a common sense assumption that a picture is worth a thousand words. The answer was nuanced, and related to the preceding comments by Alek, in the sense that Agata highlighted the distinction between infographics and GOOD infographics. Every day, producers and consumers of information have to navigate through the information tsunami, and infographics is one useful tool to organize information. But not every type of information is suitable for infographics, and visualization skills cannot cure deficiencies in subject matter expertize.

Magda Malczynska-Umeda, a designer who makes infographics and writes a blog on infographics, provided the historic perspective for our efforts. She told the story of ISOTYPE. In a moment which was moving for some participants, we could see how almost one hundred years ago, after World War I, an idealist movement set out to explain the world with pictures to lay people. Only on the way down, in the elevator, after the seminar, thanks to a comment from someone, I realized why I thought these pictures had something touching. They were mostly handmade. Magda’s presentation was illustrated with an incredibly rich collection of reproductions from books, posters and exhibition materials.

In the second block, INPRIS took to the stage with our partners, and we showed the results of our infographic efforts so far.

Wojciech Jarosiński, Grzegorz Podsiadlik (PARASTUDIO*), and Filip Wejman presented the infographic which explains a draft piece of legislation, currently prepared by the Polish government. The draft law deals with the notice-and-takedown procedure of illegal materials published on the Internet. The law is modeled somewhat like an extension of the E.U E-Commerce Directive or the D.M.C.A. in the U.S. If the law is passed, it will govern the relations between service providers, users, and third parties (authors, victims of unlawful online behaviour, etc.). We thought at INPRIS that the draft makes a good topic for infographics because this law will impact lives of regular individuals, and yet probably hardly anyone understands what are the actual responsibilities, deadlines and immunities that the law introduces. The additional value for us was to show that it makes sense to publish infographics about drafts, during the legislative process, BEFORE they become law, so that the public can take a position while the draft is still open for modification.

The next product of cooperation between INPRIS and PARASTUDIO* was a dynamic, interactive infographic explaining the liability for payment instruments. In short: What happens if you lose your credit card in a taxi, or a waiter copies the card in the restaurant, etc? Are you liable? Is the bank liable? The existing law here is so complex in its many intertwined rules, and exceptions from the rules, and exceptions from exceptions, and exceptions from exceptions from exceptions (and so forth, until you're hopelessly confused) - that we saw it as a safe bet that consumers in Poland have no clue about how this works. At the same time, people use cards on massive scale, and this law deals with serious issues for any card holder - so we thought at INPRIS that the topic makes ripe fruit for infographics. Because of the complexity of the problem we had to develop a dynamic, interactive tool which introduces an element of an automated expert system in that it asks a user a set of questions, and displays the results depending on the answers.

The last example which is still work in progress, we presented with our partner Daniel Macyszyn of Sejmometr and ePanstwo (organizations specialized in digital activism for access to public information). Daniel, who is a brilliant coder, worked with INPRIS and Papierowe Studio (a design studio) on developing a map of the legislative process in Poland. We demonstrated the prototype. The intention is to map the legislative process like the subway in order to allow users to learn about the system, extract drafts that are in the pipeline, and take action.

The third block was devoted to discussion and consumption of pizza (served by the President of INPRIS, Grzegorz Wiaderek!). Lukasz Bojarski and Jakub de Barbaro moderated the conversation. We were happy to witness amusement and enthusiasm among numerous participants, representing so many professions. The overall tone was: “Go, Infographics!” For us at INPRIS, it was particularly important that we had seen interest from educators: professors and teachers from schools for fine arts or design. We also noticed that some participants held senior positions at their organizations so that their views could influence decision making.

The fourth block was a presentation by Maciej Kabroński of Wirtualna Polska. Wirtualna Polska is one of major Polish Internet portals (a subsidiary of France Telecom). Maciej is the editor of the main page of the portal, and the head of - where one can find probably the largest Internet collection of infographics made by one Polish team. We asked Maciej to give insight at the creation and utilization of infographics at the portal. For one hour Maciej discussed his craft using examples, explaining how infographics are made, what are the difficult moments, how to build resources.

In the fifth and final block we asked the participants to accept a challenge and draw their own piece of infographics on law. This ordeal was programmed with three assumptions:

  • We want Napkin Infographics: something you would draw for a friend while explaining a legal concept in a cafe or in a bar. We supplied the public with napkins and pens.
  • We assigned the problem: local regulation in Warsaw on dog litter.
  • There was no time for preparation, authors had 10 minutes for drawing.

Having collected the napkins, we projected each work on the screen, and Maciej offered professional critique. We had hilarious moments. After that, Maciej demonstrated the work on the same subject done by his team of designers at Wirtualna Polska.

We hope that apart from a good laugh, and building relations between participants, this part of the seminar brought home the point that many non-designers are capable of making a quick first step to kick-start production of infographics on a given legal topic.

At 5:00 PM we called it a day.

As if 5 and half hours of non-stop legal infographics were not enough, a group of hard-core fanatics met right after the seminar in a bar downstairs.

Apart from a general impulse towards the idea of infographics in law, there are four concrete results that you can expect from the seminar:

  • The mailing list infografika at; anyone who cares about the topic is invited to join. In oder to sign up, write to inpris at (expect traffic mostly in Polish).
  • As we said during the seminar, we will exhibit the Napkin Infographics on the web.
  • INPRIS will be sending out open letters to schools of fine arts, NGOs, media in order to advocate the teaching and use of infographics.
  • INPRIS is launching nowadays the Infographic Clinic: an on-line communication tool for NGOs and schools of fine arts or design. At the Infographic Clinic, NGOs will be able post topics for infographics (for example: “How to request public information from a government agency”), while students can pick up the proposals, and design the infographics pro bono, knowing that their work might actually make it to the campaign of the NGO, instead of ending up as mere exercise.

We all at INPRIS want to thank everyone who came for the seminar (some travelled from other cities), and endured an intense day with us. In particular, we are grateful to excellent speakers. We are obliged for kind advice and spreading the word by 2+3D. Initially, we thought we were making a seminar for 15-20 people. Over 50 came. We were honored to listen and learn from you.

Stay tuned for more news on Infographics from INPRIS.

The seminar would not have been possible without the financial support from CEE Trust.