The design process of my infographic about Fabian Cancellara for Titanen

05 Mar 2014
  • posted by Veerle Pieters

We had a very entertaining openingsweekend here in Belgium with 'Omloop het Nieuwsblad' and 'Kuurne Brussel Kuurne'. Perfect timing to launch a new publication that is called 'Titanen'. It's always a pleasure to work on a subject that you are passionate about. I had a small contribution with creating an infographic about the main star. The first edition is completely devoted to a true titan, Fabian Cancellara.

Mr. Spartacus

Fabian hasn't raced on Belgian soil yet as he is preparing himself for the true classics that are coming up in a few weeks. If I am correctly informed he will ride 'Strade Bianche' on Saturday and will start in the 'Tirreno-Adriatico' the following week. I'm guessing his first race in Belgium will be the 'E3 Harelbeke'. This first edition of this new publication is all about Fabian, Tom Boonen's biggest competitor. Speaking of those two classic stars, you can read a lovely interview with both of them at the Trek Factory Racing web site.



I haven't read the whole publication yet but from what I have so far I can really recommend it if you want to get to know Fabian a little better. It's printed on a refreshing new format & I like the feel of the paper when you hold it in your hands. That lovely print smell is there when you turn a page. Exactly the things that are missing from the digital world. Time to get a bit more practical and talk about the design process of the infographic I created.

The briefing

The people from Grinta! magazine gave me all the freedom to create this infographic. There were no boundaries in terms of style or direction. Apart from the fact that I could work in full color and the dimensions (A3 size), all I had was a short list of facts about Fabian Cancellara. For me this was enough to get started. Like I mentioned in the beginning it's extra rewarding to work on something you're passionate about, even more when you're a fan of Fabian Cancellara yourself. It was a true pleasure and joy to have been part of this.

Infographic about Fabian Cancellara for Titanen

The layout

The type of infographics that I have been creating so far all use some kind of grid, based on the amount of different data that I have to work with. The only one that looks a little different in this respect is the one I created for the Tour de France. Grinta! provided me a huge list grouped into 8 categories, so that's hardly the typical infographical data to work with. The data provided for this one however is more typical and fitted perfectly to translate into an infographic.

The first thing I do when I start a project like this is looking at the provided data. I count the different items and look at the type of data, trying to find a structure to organise this data into different groups. I could see 3 different types of data. There were these short key facts such as: age, length, weight, max. power, top speed etc., then there was data related to personal stuff like Fabian's lucky number, names of his 2 daughters, and his motto "100% counts". The 3rd group of data was the biggest group (of course), his achievements.

Layout wireframe for the inforgraphic about Fabian Cancellara for Titanen

One thing I definitely wanted to go for was a central illustration of Fabian Cancellara on the bike cycling through a landscape. For me the fundamental question was, do I go for a frontal view of him on his bike, or side view? This resulted in 2 different layouts, each using 4 columns, but one with a central illustration in landscape format (for the side view), and one in portrait format (for the frontal view). In the end the version in side view won over the one in frontal view.

The challenge

My idea was to place the short key facts on the illustration, then the personal info would be placed somewhere together below the illustration, and his achievements would be placed all around. This last group would be the most flexible, and while I was giving each item its place I wasn't sure if they would stay on the exact place, but I knew I could always play with this later on. Working on these kind of jobs always feels a little like trying to solve a puzzle. Only in this case the shape of the pieces aren't predefined, it's up to you how you give them form. You need to look at them with a creative eye, making sure all pieces fit, and you end up with a perfect puzzle.

The other challenge was that all of the data contained rather long descriptive sentences. So I also had to transform each into a few keywords, keeping things as brief as possible because there simply wasn't room for all the text. This is also not the purpose anyway, since an infographic is about translating data into a graphical illustration showing all the key facts and figures about a certain topic, or in this case a sports athlete.

The illustrations

From here on my design process steps are a little less structured, which is actually mostly the case with illustration projects like this. Inspiration plays its mayor role here, and some days I found some, other days not so much. While I knew that drawing Fabian would be the real challenge for me, I kinda underestimated the rest. Luckily for me I started really early, and so time was on my side.

Fabian's achievements and other info

In my mind I was thinking of starting with the most difficult part, which is drawing Fabian on his bike, but instead I started with this achievements. The fact was that the Trek team was going to announce the new outfit and bikes, and I figured I better wait to make sure this matches and things where up-to-date. For the achievements I was thinking of using a big number in combination with an icon or simple illustration representing the subject. I looked up medals and other stuff that could help me in finding the right icon or illustration.

Sometimes I googled a keyword and looked at the images results for ideas in terms of subject. For example I was thinking about Fabian's "lucky number", and at first I had no idea how to present this, but then the clover appeared in the search results which is perfect. I did the same to get some ideas for his record time, weight, power… and also for his Paris-Roubaix achievement. I figured I can't really draw a cobble stone, but after looking up the medal, I saw a way to draw it in a simplified version which would suit perfectly. Google images can be handy to give you ideas in this respect. Lots of the search result images are rather ugly and unappealing, but they can often spark an idea.

In the end I also played around with the placement of each item, and with the background color. In general I designed item per item. So if one was finished, I started the next one. Meanwhile whenever I was a little stuck on something, I did some research and thought of how I would design the others: which icon or illustration can I use, which colors? The only thing I had already in place was the text. This was something I did upfront.

DIN as typeface

While working on completing the first item, I tried to create some kind of layout that I could repeat for each item to create a repeating structure throughout the graphic. From the beginning I decided to use DIN as typeface. I simply felt this would be a perfect choice. Using DIN in capitals gave the graphic the general style I was after.

Fabian on his bike

I thought while I was filling up these boxes, I'll gather as much resources on the web to draw Fabian. I gathered a whole bunch of photos of his position on the bike, his face, his bike etc. In the end almost all of the photos I gathered played a part. So the illustration is based on a whole bunch of photos all together.

The landscape

This part was the easiest part of all. I started with a rough pencil sketch on paper, but this time I didn't even bother to digitalise it. The basic idea was already in my head, and I figuredI could save some time this way. I knew I would create a similar landscape in terms of illustration style like I did before for my Tour de France posters. I also reused certain elements like trees and houses. I just let my imagination work while I was working on this in Adobe Illustrator. I didn't have the exact end-result in my mind, ideas came while drawing this.


While I really love a clean and rather flat look, I thought it would be really great to add some subtle textures. At first I was doubting whether to try something similar like I used for my Tour de France posters, which is completely vector-based, or not. The texture I used was based on a paper sample called Beer paper from Gmund that I scanned in and placed as a TIF file. Over at Skillshare, I learned some great tricks from DNKG and figured it would be perfect to use here, so I gave this a try.

Hope you liked my explanation and the publication is now available at all press shops and can also be ordered via the Grinta web site.