Carla Saliba into the world of the ‘flexiprenuer’
Posted on June 19, 2019

Carla Saliba has embraced the world of data visualisation, turning complex information into compelling design – all while working from wherever she wants and with a team that’s scattered across the world

Carla Saliba has made a career out of visualising data. She has communicated the impact of the Syrian war on education, depicted the ebola outbreak in numbers, and visualised terror. For Wired UK, she illustrated the number of deaths caused by conflict across the world since 1945. In short, she makes sense of complex information, rendering it more easily digestible.

“I love what I do and I believe in what I do. I think it’s important,” she says. “The future is not static. It’s interactive, data-driven, with ever more complex information. That for me is interesting. Because at the end of the day, data’s the new oil.”

  Saliba, the founder of data-design and visualisation agency infographic.ly, is at Le Pain Quotidien in Dubai Marina Mall waiting for her tea – a medley of fresh mint leaves, lemon and ginger. She looks relaxed but, having just returned from Beirut, is busy. “Everybody wants your data. So what’s the point of collecting data if you can’t gather insights?” she asks. “The whole point of data and visualising it is to be able to uncover insights easily. And by doing that you can help educate and remove ignorance around so many topics.”

The ‘conflict kills’ commission for Wired, for example, helped disprove assertions that the world is becoming more violent, while visualising terror highlighted an empathy gap in the media. All of which is relatively new ground for Saliba. An architect by training, she practiced for nine years before completing a master’s degree in business design at the Domus Academy in Milan.

“That’s where I really discovered infographics for the first time,” she says. “One of my friends, who has a branding studio in Beirut now, had this book called Information is Beautiful by David McCandless. It did what the cover said. It made information look beautiful. I never thought that information could be so enticing and it opened up a whole new world. Then I discovered Hans Rosling, this famous Swedish statistician and kind of a pioneer in data visualisation. I was suddenly inspired. I discovered this way of putting together data and information in a compelling way.”

   Making data compelling, of course, is far from easy. It takes time, effort and dedication, especially the more interactive work, where information can be compared and contrasted at the click of a button. It also takes talent. Saliba’s design director is based in Beirut, while her freelancers are scattered across the world from Spain to Jordan. As such, Saliba is what she describes as a ‘flexiprenuer’.

“When you manage a team remotely it allows for flexibility in how you and they work, which is made all the easier by the technology and tools that are available to help facilitate this now,” she says. “Ten years ago it would have been much more challenging and restrictive to operate as an entrepreneur. Today you can implement processes without being present, using things like Slack, Trello and Drive to keep everyone on the same page, so despite being in different countries and time zones, there is still accountability on all fronts.

“My team are process-driven like me, so they appreciate the need for structure and organisation, but they have the benefit of being able to work to their own timeline, which works for them as well. It’s this flexiprenuer culture that will no doubt be the driver for most businesses in the coming years.” 

“My team are process-driven like me, so they appreciate the need for structure and organisation, but they have the benefit of being able to work to their own timeline, which works for them as well. It’s this flexiprenuer culture that will no doubt be the driver for most businesses in the coming years.” 

 Since launching her agency in 2013 Saliba and her team have helped companies communicate data to their stakeholders clearly and effectively. Clients such as MasterCard, TED, Reebok and Mercedes-Benz. Last year she also held a series of workshops as part of the ‘Today at Apple’ initiative, exploring the potential of ‘infographic thinking’.

“It’s all too easy to fall into repeat patterns and get stuck in a rut when you have been an entrepreneur for a while, which is why it’s important to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone when the opportunity presents itself,” she says. “Last year I went on a co-working retreat called Unsettled that’s designed to bring people together from all over the world with different skill sets, outlooks and ambitions to work together for two weeks. Aside from the beautiful Cape Town setting, which was inspiring enough when you work in the visualisation business, it was great to see things from a different perspective, learn from the people around you and try something new.”

“I have a friend in London,” she adds, “who has been something of a mentor to me over the years, introducing me to people, inviting me to events and helping me expand my network as well. Whenever I’m in town, we always meet up to share ideas and catch up on the order of the day. I think that while technology has been such an enabler in helping us achieve so much more from a business perspective, we still need to value people. While you can get business leads online, networking is still one of the best ways to meet people, even if you’re not looking to convert them; you never know where a conversation may lead.”