Couples who work together (Part 2): Angela and Tom from InfoDesignLab

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When the Italian Angela Morelli met the Norwegian Tom Gabriel Johansen at a conference in Paris in 2009, they got talking about the water footprint of humanity, information design and if making complex data understandable can precede action and change. They started collaborating, fell in love, and in 2015 they started the information design company InfoDesignLab. The couple is based in Oslo, is still as passionate about communicating water science. 

Idea and editing: Christina Skreiberg

Why did you guys start InfoDesignLab?

Tom: We started InfoDesignLab because in the past 15 years we experienced how vital it is to design information in a way that strikes the right note in the mind of the viewer.

How is a typical week for you two? Do you see each other all the time?

Angela: We do see each other all the time because sharing a professional and personal partnership for us implies to think, make and plan a lot, constantly and continuously. In fact every week is different, days can be high-paced and tiring, intense and exciting. We can naturally decide to lead different types of projects but our minds are very much aligned on the same goals of making complex information understandable, to empower people to communicate better. Weeks can be spent in research mode, in design mode, in facilitation mode or in teaching mode.

Do you have a divide between work and private life? Do you for instance talk about work over dinner?

Angela: We can talk about work over dinner, and we can talk about dinner at work, which Tom is now used to because that’s the way it is if you are married with an Italian lady from the south of Italy! 

There is a very fuzzy line between personal and professional life but I guess the more we go on the more we understand each other. I can see that we can tacitly respect the need of rest, the need to unplug, the need to do other things. My impression is that we are getting better and better at reading subtle signals so that we make sure to lock work into a box whenever it is necessary. We do not always succeed because of necessity, but we are good at having fun. Tom is a master in that. He is teaching me a lot about enjoying the little things.

Have you set up any “rules”, to make it work?

Angela: No rules. At least for now.

How do you think your relationship affects the work you produce?

Tom: I think we are “living” what we are doing more, and that our design- and communication skills are more tools than a profession. We use our skills for a strongly felt purpose that I think build our capacity for cross collaboration.

Klikk for å se bildet "Greenland Expedition1" i full størrelse

Helicopter excursion to Jacobshavn glacier / Expedition to Greenland: understanding climate science and solutions for impactful collaborations.

What are the challenges of being partners in both business and in love?

Tom: We have been thinking about this, and struggle to find “the bad” side of it. I guess we should be very careful and pay attention for future changes and never lose the ability to talk, talk, talk and listen, listen, listen.

What is the best thing about working together?

Tom: The feeling of us being a strong team, and that so much of our work is happening in amazing settings with amazing people. Sharing these moments, which happen while we’re working, is a blessing.

Klikk for å se bildet "Map Cl" i full størrelse

The Visualization of the Norwegian Environmental Targets, Video Animation

Klikk for å se bildet "Drone 2 3" i full størrelse

The Visualization of the Norwegian Environmental Targets, Video Animation

Klikk for å se bildet "Environmental Targets" i full størrelse

The Visualization of the Norwegian Environmental Targets, Diagrams

Tell us a little bit about you passion for water?

Angela: It all started in 2006, when I read the words of Ismail Serageldin, who had famously prophesied in 1995:

“If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water.”  

These words literally dragged me into the grim reality of the scary water crisis. They sparked a powerful reaction that would drive my interest for social and environmental causes, reshaping my ideas about my role as citizen and designer in society.

In those words both of us later identified a space for design intervention, because we perceived the existence of a contradiction: although we all need water in order to survive, although we exploit and pollute it, we are not aware of the ways we use this precious and delicate resource. We use design to raise awareness and spread knowledge.

Today we are proud to collaborate with top leading scientists and research organizations to visualize water, health, climate and science in engaging and understandable ways.

Make sure to check out their fantastic project The Water We Eat  - a visualization of the fact that we eat 3496 liters of water every day! 

How did you meet and how did you discover that you are a great “union”?   

Angela: We have been collaborating for about seven years, and we have been running InfoDesignLab for about two years.

We met in Paris in the foyer of the OECD headquarters (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in 2009, where the conference “Data Designed for Decisions” was held. We got excited as we slowly discovered that we were both information designers, that we were both interested in using design to enhance understanding and that we both believed that understanding precedes action and change. After 24 hour we also discovered we were both teaching. After 48 hours we ended up talking about data on water consumption and water footprint.

Tom was supposed to be in Washington at the time, but changed plans at the very last minute and headed to Paris instead. Life is full of surprises!

Tom: “Spooky”, I thought. At that time I was head of the design conference Grafill EDIT and my team and I was hunting speakers for EDIT 2009. And there I was, with this lady who kept talking about water, and we were in the process of looking for a speaker whose work is focused on visualizing the global water footprint. Water was and is a hot topic indeed. As I was arriving back in Norway I realized that Angela was in fact the same information designer we earlier had planned on inviting to the EDIT 2009 conference.

That’s when our professional journey started. The personal one took a bit more time but you know how it is, good things come to those who wait!

Follow Angela and Tom’s work here: www.infodesignlab.com

(Portrait photo: Torger Grytå)