Introduce Yourself To… Sabrina Faramarzi

Dust in Translation is a creative agency that tells stories through data, trend analysis and design. They specialize in explainer journalism and work with both newsrooms and brands to not only make sense of the story that data tells, but present that story in an enticing and informative way. Sabrina Faramarzi is the Founder and Special Projects Editor at Dust in Translation, and we chatted with her about her work with the agency, how we can use data to tell stories, and of course, her favorite sound. 

Hi Sabrina! What do you do at Dust in Translation?

I am a Special Projects Editor specializing in features journalism, trend analysis and data storytelling. And Dust In Translation was an idea that I came up with in the early part of the pandemic where I wanted to consolidate all of these different areas that I was working in, but also build out a team that can also provide this.

Sabrina Introducing Herself

The idea for Dust In Translation initially was a special projects pop-up team. We help organizations build ambitious editorial projects and we help them manage it and produce it, end-to-end. Dust In Translation is for organizations who are interested in building data driven projects with the idea to explain something to their readers. We’re at this intersection between cultural intelligence, data journalism and explainer journalism.

What I saw over the last few years is that there’s such an influx of media that we’re consuming and there’s more and more appetite and need for explainer style journalism and data style journalism, which really pulls together disparate ideas in one cohesive narrative.

Dust Carpet by Igor Eškinja

We’re a small agency and we are made up of journalists, data analysts and designers. We’re really passionate about data visualization and also new forms of journalism and storytelling. We really see it from a broad perspective. In the modern landscape where environmental crises are intersecting with social crises, and cultural crises are intersecting with political crises, there needs to be a way to bring these messages and stories together. 

Why Data Is Important for Storytelling

You were an independent journalist before founding Dust in Translation, when did you realize that there was a need for a specialized data visualization and storytelling agency?

I still do some forms of independent journalism, but I was finding it quite frustrating, just working in newsrooms and having to fight for a basic approach to doing something a little bit more creative. And it would always take so long to have a creative idea get through and finally get made. 

I wanted to bring that timeline much, much closer. Obviously for most creatives that still takes time. But I didn’t want it to be years and years for my editors to give me the opportunity to do something that I already knew how to do. I wanted to be able to offer that to organizations who had more time, more budget, and who wanted journalistic quality content and storytelling.

And of course as well, journalism is very difficult to make a living out of as an independent in this landscape. Dust In Translation gave me the opportunity to start working in teams again. And I really missed having colleagues, especially for larger creative projects.

I really like to get my teeth into something and see it from all aspects. I’ve worked in audio, I’ve worked in video, I’ve worked in virtual reality, I’ve worked in features, I’ve worked in VR, I’ve seen a lot of different sides of that process. I am able to understand each part of that process. And when I started Dust In Translation, I actually designed a special projects process that all of our clients can use. And it’s completely modular and we use this exact same process for each project. So clients always know where they are, exactly how many different moving parts there are to editorial projects. 

Our USP is really that the clients can come to us and we can manage all of that.

Why did you choose the name, ‘Dust in Translation?’

Sabrina Explains Where the Name
‘Dust in Translation’ Came From

Data is like dust and it’s everywhere. And every time we move on the internet, we’re leaving a trail of data, just like we leave a trail of dust in real life. We at Dust In Translation gather that dust and shape it into a picture to tell stories and translate them. 

It’s also based on one of my favorite pieces of art, which was a dust carpet.

What kind of projects have you worked on with Dust in Translation?

We decided that we were only going to take projects that were helping the world in some way. So we did a big project on the Future of education, which was a big global project. We did a project on the future of food and what that looks like from a cultural perspective, as well as an environmental perspective.

One of our favorite projects we’ve worked on is immigration and migration and access to travel and really talking about things like passport privilege.

We’re also looking at some projects around internet shutdowns and the intersection between reporting climate change and  journalism, specifically around how it affects people of different genders and how that data is being pulled and mined and analyzed.

How does data help to tell stories in a more impactful way?

Including data into your stories gives a sense of scale; it gives the corners of the room and contextualizes it.

For example, if you were telling a story about a small town and you didn’t include the population of the small town, how could anyone really imagine how small this town really is. It’s about providing a scale. There are so many stories that don’t include this, and I feel like I can’t grasp it, or I can’t place it, or I can’t contextualize it within the wider world. Being able to do that means that more people can relate or at least understand your stories. 

How Data Helps to
Contextualize Stories

How does audio play a role in data visualization? Do you have any projects you admire? 

Data literacy has improved across the board with ordinary readers since the pandemic. But there are still some data visualizations that could use a little bit of guidance, so those smaller audio stories are really helpful for the audience. 

There are also a lot of narrative pieces that are more intense but more impactful. For example, there was an interactive data visualization in a web story about a building collapse in Egypt. They actually used the sounds of the building collapse on the visualization. When you put all these elements together the audience can have a really impactful sense of what it felt like.

“A Sonic Memorial to the
Orlando Shooting Victims”

There was another project that was a sonic memorial to the victims the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando. We’re usually so overloaded by these very negative stories that somehow we forget to bring back in the human aspect, or the empathy, of it.

At Dust In Translation, we’re mostly interested in those kinds of intentional approaches.  With stories like that, the combination of data imagery and audio can really give an echo to a story.

What is your favorite sound or sounds? You don’t have to pick just one and why?

I have one of those Tibetan singing bowls and I really do love that sound, because you can gradually increase the intensity. Rain is an, is an obvious one. I also just really like the sound of I guess maybe small domestic things like turning the taps on in the morning or the click on a gas hob. I also love the sounds of my friends’ voices and clinking glasses. 

Interview by Jill Beytin for Bear Radio