Info Design / Visualization

Resources, Tools, Information, and more.

Info Design / Visualization

Information Design and Data/Digital Visualization are easily conflated. Both are focused on preparing and presenting information for its efficient and effective use. But where Information Design seeks to make complex data (disparate bits of related information) more accessible to a wide range of users through a number of approaches including its arrangement and navigation, Data/Digital Visualization is both an art and science of bringing complex data to life through its visualization for different audiences and purposes. This resource provides insight and links to further information. Use the "Quick Links" menu below to access subject areas.

Information Design

Information Design > Practice

Information Design focuses both theory and practice on the systematic collection, processing (including arrangement), and dissemination of data (disparate bits of related information) using various communication media, messages, and design principles to increase the understanding of those using the particular data set. The overall practice of Information Design involves the following.
◊ Choosing relevant content and dividing it into separate "chunks" based on or in relation to specific audience(s) / purpose
◊ Organizing these separate information chunks to include overviews, concepts, definitions, examples, and references that follow an organizing principle
◊ Developing information topics within each chunk logically, with an emphasis on what is important to message and audience; provide clear navigational structure(s), consistent presentation of information subsets; assure consistent use of typographic features / cues, font face choices, use of white space, etc.

Information Design > Roots

The roots of information design can be traced back to distant campfires around which prehistoric storytellers related the histories of their tribes. The emphasis on oral storytelling continued with the priests, poets, and playwrights of the ancient world. Many of their efforts to arrange and present the information of human experience, since recorded and preserved in written (cuneiform, hieroglyphics, ancient and modern alphabets) form, are still considered classics in our current world. See for example, The Odyssey and/or The Greek Tragedies.
Resources > Aural-Oral History
Resources > Digital Storytelling Resources

Information Design > Same Term, Different Fields and Applications

Different disciplinary areas are associated with Information Design.
◊ Content management
◊ Graphic design
◊ Information architecture
◊ Knowledge visualization
◊ Statistics
◊ Technical communication
◊ Technical illustration
◊ Typography
◊ Visual literacy
◊ Web indexing

This promotes different applications of Information Design in different fields.
◊ Graphic Design: the effective graphic display/presentation of information with a focus toward effective utilization rather than attractiveness or artistic expression
◊ Professional Writing: practice sometimes called "document design"
◊ Technical Communication: creating information structures for specific information aimed at specific audiences
◊ Web Design: practice often called "information architecture" includes focus on message content and language, user testing and research
◊ Computer Science and Information Technology: a rough synonym with "Information Architecture": the design of information systems, databases, or data structures; includes data modeling and process analysis

Information Design > Brief History

Information Design is a relatively recently recognized field of theory and practice focusing on the systematic collection, processing (including arrangement), and dissemination of data (disparate bits of related information) using various communication media, messages, and design principles to increase the understanding of those using the particular data set.

Information Design can be seen as operating in two different arenas: the more traditional arena of two-dimensional graphics, and the ever-evolving arena of interactive computer-driven multimedia. It has evolved from a number of disciplines, most specifically communications and visual design. Putting a pin in a definitive beginning is, therefore, difficult. But, there are several landmarks we can point to as we outline the evolution of information design as an undertaking to subjectively craft human experience.

Information Design > Examples

Felton, Nicholas. The Feltron Report
Feltron is an information designer for Facebook whose "personal annual reports" enjoy a worldwide following of fellow designers.

Feltron, Nicholas. "Feltron Annual Reports"

Horn, Robert E. "Information Design: The Emergence of a New Profession." Information Design. Edited by Robert Jacobson. The MIT Press, 2000. pp. 15-33.

Data/Digital Visualization

Data Visualization > Definition(s)

What Is Visualization?
Robert Kosara (blog post)
A definition of "visualization" is problematic, but Kosara provides a very useful one and a few examples to illustrate the different criteria of its use.

The Many Names of Visualization
Robert Kosara (blog post)
Responds to The Many Words for Visualization by Nathan Yau. It should be clear that there is no universal agreement about the different words used for visualization and infographics. For that reason, this blog post is important for understanding the scope of the field as implied by the words and definitions used to define and describe it.

Data/Digital Visualization > History and Theory

A Quick Illustrated History of Visualization
Delivers exactly what the title promises. An excellent resource to start thinking about data visualization.

The 5 Most Influential Data Visualizations of All Time (PDF, read online or download)
Five data visualizations that changed the way people think about the world. Includes some of the examples detailed below.

Map of Firsts
by R.J. Andrews
An interactive timeline of the most iconographic infographics. Click on one of the visual scrolls to get started.

Spot Maps by Dr. John Snow

Pioneering work in data visualization. Spot maps prepared by Dr. John Snow (1813-1858) helped pinpoint the source of the 1854 cholera epidemic in London. Maps showed London neighborhoods overlaid with visualizations of cholera victim homes and location of nearest water pumps. By examining the map Snow could easily see that most of the deaths occurred near a particular pump. Solution: remove the pump handle so that people no longer had access to contaminated water.

Resources for Snow and his maps
John Snow
UCLA Department of Epidemiology
School of Public Health
A website devoted to the life and work of Dr. John Snow. Provides information about his cholera maps.

Visual Display of John Snow
A response by Edward R. Tufte (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Cheshire, Connecticut, 1983) to Snow's work. Tufte says "graphical analysis testifies about the data far more effectively than calculation."

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World (Steven Johnson. Riverhead Books, 2006)
An historical narrative of Snow's map, and how it evolved at the intersection of microscopic bacteria, the tragedy and courage of individual lives, the cultural realm of ideas and ideologies, and the sprawling metropolis of London, to make sense of an experience that defied human understanding.

John Snow's Map 1 (1854)
A high resolution image of Snow's original map

High Resolution Maps by John Snow
1861 flow map by Charles Jospeh Minard

Flow Maps by Charles Joseph Minard

Minard (1781-1870) pioneered the use of graphics in engineering and statistics. He is famous for his "Carte figurative des pertes successives en hommes de l'Armée Française dans la campagne de Russie 1812-1813," a flow map published in 1869 depicting Napoleon Bonaparte's disastrous Russian campaign of 1812. Beginning at the Polish-Russian border, Minard's map used a thick brown band to show the size of Napoleon's army at each position during the march to Moscow. The path of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, during a bitter winter, is shown by a darker lower band which is tied to temperature and time scales. The map included six dimensions of information: the location of Napoleon's army in longitude and latitude, its direction of travel, its size throughout the campaign (422,000 at start; 10,000 at end), temperature, and dates. Edward R. Tufte says of Minard's map "it may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn" (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information 40). Minard's map set the standard for graphically depicting flows of people and goods in space.

Resources for Minard and his maps
The concept of the flow map was actually developed earlier, in 1837, by Henry Drury Harness who used them to depict the flow of people and freight in Ireland.

Other examples of Minard's work: The Graphic Works of Charles Joseph Minard—Thumbnail Page.

Poster: Napolean's March
Information about Minard's map, including his sources and biography, along with an image at a website maintained by Edward R. Tufte. Buy a copy of Minard's map as a 22" x 15'' poster if you like.

Corbett, John. Charles Joseph Minard: Mapping Napoleon's March, 1861.
Center for Spatially Integrated Social Science

ISOTYPE by Otto Neurath's

Otto Neurath sought, in the 1930s, to develop an International System Of Typographic Picture Education (ISOTYPE), a universal, objective, and neutral pictorial language system for capturing quantitative information. His ISOTYPE graphs show amounts by reproducing a single image proportional to that amount. His modern graphic designs sought to transcend linguistic and cultural barriers and, in fact, provide the basis for much of the visual language and international signage we see and use everyday. Learn more here: Vintage Visual Language: The Story of Isotype and here: ISOTYPE: International System of Typographic Picture Education" "Words Divide, Pictures Unite.".

Resources for Otto Neurath's ISOTYPE
Pendle, George. Otto Neurath's Universal Silhouettes. Cabinet, no. 24, Winter 2006/2007.

Lee, Jae Young. "Otto Neurath's Isotype and the Rhetoric of Neutrality". Visible Language 2008.

Timeline Murals by Charles and Ray Eames

In the 1940s, Charles Eames (1907-1978) and his wife Ray, beginning in 1940 and continuing four decades, were the pioneers of modern information design. They worked in many mediums including puppets, film, and furniture. The Eames chair is still considered the epitome of contemporary, comfortable design. Their most famous contribution to information design was the timeline mural which provided a graphical, linear depiction of some historical or current event with far more information carrying capacity than anything previously produced.

Timelines with their graphic depictions of intersections between space and time are one facet of visual language. Another, and very interesting, facet is comics and graphic novels, with their emphasis on the sequential juxtaposition of text and images, is directly related to the concept of timelines. See Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (HarperPerennial, 1994. ISBN 0-06-097625-X). The subtitle reads, "The invisible art," and McCloud makes it extremely visible. Good discussion of how comics work, with many examples. The entire book is presented as a comic. More information online at Scott

Resources for Charles and Ray Eames
Erwin, Daniel. "Eames: Paragon of Simplicity" October 2007
Apparently, a paper written by Erwin for his Intro to Design class.
Available in HTML format here Available in .PDF format here.

Powers of Ten
A short, interactive film by Charles Eames which visualizes the size of the universe, from space to subatomic particles, through a series of "jumps," each 10 times larger, or smaller, than the previous.

Data/Digital Visualization > Examples
I Have A Name/Yo tengo nombre

An online visual database developed and maintained by the Texas Observer to help identify immigrants who died in the Rio Grande Valley of South and West Texas. As a tool, this website focuses on the personal effects of unidentified immigrants. Stunning photographs of these items may help identify their owners, bring closure to families seeking missing friends or relatives, and put a human face on an ongoing humanitarian crises. Introducing 'I Have A Name/Yo Tengo Nombre' in the Texas Observer.

Mass Shootings Since Sandy Hook

Interactive visualization of mass shootings in America. Data comes from the Gun Violence Archive, which defines mass shootings as events in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, were shot but not necessarily killed at the same general time and location. GVA's definition differs from other definitions of mass shootings, which may require that four or more people are killed or exclude certain shootings, such as gang-related and domestic events. LEARN more.

Panchaud, Martin. Star Wars Episode IV
An adaptation in the style of an infographic.

Aaron Koblin: Visualizing ourselves . . . with crowd-sourced data
Koblin describes some of his data visualization projects in this TED Talk. Of special interest are COLLABORATIVE, CROWD-BUILD PROJECTS where many people contribute small bits of the finished project.

A COLLABORATION between artists Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg to invent new ways for people to think and talk about data. The two artists ask, "Can visualization move beyond numbers into the realm of words and images? Can VISUALIZATION tell never-before-told stories?" See especially Wind.

Interactive music image
Click image to see the full interactive music graphic(via Concert Hotels).

Thousands of Bird Sounds
Visualize using machine learning. A very cool interface too.

Everything You Need To Know about Modern Russian Art in 25 Minutes: A Visual Introduction to Futurism, Socialist Realism & More
Open Culture website.

A web-based app. Use it to turn data into music and sound.

Visualizing Venice
A project of The Wired! Lab for Digital Art History & Visual Culture at Duke University that uses archival sources (documents, plans, images) and digital technologies (3D modeling, animation, images) to map growth and change in the city of Venice. See also the Digital Athens project.

Data/Digital Visualization > Resources

Cairo, Alberto. The Truthful Art: Data, Charges, and Maps for Communication.

Friendly, Michael. "A Brief History of Data Visualization." Handbook of Data Visualization, edited by Chunhouh Chen, Wolfgang Härdle and Antony Unwin, Springer, 2008, pp. 15-56.

L'Astorina, Edoardo. Big Data Visualization: Review of the 20 Best Tools
This information provided by a commercial business, perhaps to increase their business, Still, the introduction to data visualization tools could be valuable.

Manovich, Lev. "What Is Visualization?"

Manovich, Lev. "A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods"

Mars, Roman. Episode 14: The Periodic Table: Infographic Apotheosis
An episode from Mars' 99% Invisible, a "Tiny Radio Show about Design," which notes The Periodic Table of Elements contains an amazing amount of information, if you only know how to read it.

Mars, Roman. "Episode 31: The Feltron Annual Report"
An episode from Mars' 99% Invisible, a "Tiny Radio Show about Design," that provides more information about Nicholas Felton and his Feltron Report.

Tufte, Edward
Designers, psychologists, linguists, and interface engineers begin discussing how to best visualize information in the late 1960s-early 1970s. "Information design" evolved as a subset of graphic design and was seen as a multidisciplinary endeavor. Edward R. Tufte developed a course on statistical graphics, which was further developed with John Tukey as information design.Materials from this course formed the basis of Tufte's first book The Visual Display of Qualitative Information (Graphics Press, 1983). Other books by Tufte include
Tufte, Edward R. Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities. Graphics Press, 1997.
Tufte, Edward R. Envisioning Information. Graphics Press, 1990.

Ware, Colin. Visual Thinking for Design/