CLEA – POST 3/4: Infographics & Data Visualisation

by clea1g

We will start off this new topic looking at an old favourite of mine: Harry Beck’s diagram of the 7+ lines of the London Underground, although geographically inaccurate, provides a coherent overview of a complex system. With excellent color printing, classic British railroad typography (by Edward Johnson), and, in the modern style, only horizontal, vertical, and 45 degree lines, the map became a beautiful organizing image of London. For apparently quite a number of people, the map organized London (rather than London organizing the map). Despite 70 years of revision due to extensions of the Underground and bureaucratic tinkering (the marketing department wrecked the map for several years), the map nicely survives to this day.

The BBC documentary The London Underground Map (from the series Design Classics) is an oldie but well worth watching.

Then we will take a look at Edward Tufte, regarded as a guru in this field. Tufte has written several books and lectures frequently on how to effectively present data and information. He essentially advocates a “keep it simple” approach, arguing that jazzy colors and designs distract from important information.

A Yale University professor of political science and computer science, Tufte is widely respected in the design community for his work on infographics. He was recently recruited by the  Obama administration to advise stimulus board officials on how to better explain the complexities of the economic stimulus to the general public.

David McCandless makes infographics — simple, elegant ways to see information that might be too complex or too big, small, abstract or scattered to otherwise be grasped. He discusses his ideas in a recent Ted talk.

In his new book, Information Is Beautiful (in the US, it’s being called The Visual Miscellaneum), McCandless and his cadre of info designers take a spin through the world of visualized data, from hard stats on politics and climate to daffy but no less important trends in pop music. Most of this info is available on his blog.

McCandless’ genius is not so much in finding jazzy new ways to show data — the actual graphics aren’t the real innovation here — as in finding fresh ways to combine datasets to let them ping and prod each other.

Closer to home is Patrick Clair who may be familiar to many of you through the brilliant motion infographics he creates for Hungry Beast on the ABC. Take the time to check out his work.

The Spanish design group La Mosca (Scott Dadich/Wired mentioned them in his talk) produce some very beautiful work. The image above was designed for La Vanguardia newspaper as a regular feature called Data.

A few more sites to find info on this topic are Smashing Magazine where there many more fascinating examples. (Not to mention a zillion other interesting things to distract you…) There is some great stuff too at the aptly named Cool Infographics.

What are the current design trends in the area of Infographics and Data Visualisation? Find an aspect of this topic that is of interest to you and share your findings.  This post due 7/9 at the end of class… thank-you!