Commissioned visuals for Dollars for Profs series

Working with illustrator María Hergueta on illustrating conflicts of interest in academia was a blast. The series comprised four investigative stories written by ProPublica reporters Annie Waldman and David Armstrong, plus a database made by Sisi Wei, Annie Waldman, and David Armstrong.

The series was a good candidate for illustration, since many of the people we were writing about weren’t keen to be photographed. So instead, we got to play with visual metaphors for hiding money in classrooms and universities.

Three screenshots of web pages with illustrations. The first visual is of a woman with her arms crossed, with cash in one hand and a chemistry vial in the other. The second is of a man pulling a curtain closed behind the columns of a university building, with cash fluttering out from underneath the curtain. The third is a professor accessing a secret safe behind a blackboard, nervously looking over his shoulder.
Illustrations by María Hergueta

María was game to make several illustrations for the series. She turned sketches around very quickly and her concepts were solid. We made a few edits — having a professor surreptitiously looking over his shoulder in the blackboard drawing, making the fluttering cash more apparent in the columns-and-curtain piece — and María finished them up. I appreciated how she coordinated color and texture across the set. It made the series feel visually cohesive.

A screenshot of a web page with an illustration. The illustration shows a man sitting at a desk, with a giant piggy bank hidden by a sheet behind him. The piggy bank’s outline is clearly visible, but the professor is acting like it isn’t there.
Illustrations by María Hergueta

My favorite illustration was one with a poorly hidden piggy bank behind a professor at a desk. I immediately understood “hidden money” when I saw the piggy bank. The prototypical shape, down to the curly tail, felt playful while still keeping with the serious themes of the story.