Last March she won one of the elusive Information is Beautiful Awards – the world’s “first open contest to celebrate excellence and beauty in data visualizations, infographics and information art” – only one year after she graduated college. Now, Cristina Vanko works in Indianapolis as a designer for Developer Town, helping companies create visual designs for their mobile apps.

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But design wasn’t what Vanko thought would be in her future career when she enrolled in Indiana University. She’d always had a passion for art and met a few designers in her painting classes, who inspired her to try design classes out herself. Her favorite thing about design?

It’s one of those evolving things… It keeps on changing while others remain static, and you can always use design techniques… I took classes in basically every department because I really liked learning about new things.

Flash-forward to the 2012 Information is Beautiful awards, which granted 26 artists from more than 20 countries recognition for their outstanding pieces of work. Vanko was placed in the Hall of Fame for the website’s Hollywood Challenge winners for her piece The Top Most Profitable Movies of 2001 Across 22 Story Types.

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Surprisingly enough, Vanko says that when she graduated, she “never thought I would touch digital.” In fact, this was the first ever infographic that Vanko had created. Before, she had only heard of the Info is Beautiful book, and found the contest through a friend who encouraged her to apply. While picking through each story type and deciding how to organize all of this information, Vanko was careful to place less importance on visuals so that “I wouldn’t distract the viewer from the most important part of the piece.”

One of her other favorite pieces came from a mobile app that she created called Reconnect. The technology allows you to scan a barcode on your food to find out where it originally grew and if it would be possible to find another product more locally. When creating this design, Vanko;

… was really thinking through experience and deciding what’s the best way to do things. How do you make things easily digestible for your viewer? I’m a really big fan of anything visual to help people learn big information.

reconnect

Of her inspirations, Vanko lists Nick Feltron for his visualization of daily life, and Kelli Anderson for the “illustrative nature of her infographics.” Another site she admires is Slavery Footprint, which visually demonstrates different points about how many slaves may have worked for you. Like this site, she says good visualizations:

…Personalizes the information, has an emotional response attached to it.. You realize, oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m making this impact on the world.

Keep up with Vanko on Twitter (@CristinaVanko) and check out her personal website to see her latest projects. Stay tuned for next week’s Spotlight Interview and be sure to sign up with iCharts so you can start making your data more beautiful.