The Queen


One of my students recently gave me this holiday season gift. Queen Elizabeth II, the nutcracker version. This is obviously a frivolous portrait, but an affectionate one too. Many people in the United Kingdom (and elsewhere) have a lot of respect for our 91-year-old monarch. And naturally a person with this level of attention is the subject of many graphics.

Color chart
Royal outfit data visualized in Vogue magazine. Blue is the favorite color.

Pantone Queen
For the monarch’s Diamond Jubilee, Pantone and Leo Burnett London collaborated on a royal color selector.

Royal timeline
Portraits on banknotes. The queen has reigned for 66 years.

Being royal
Queen Elizabeth’s world. Infographic by Laura Cattaneo and Francesco Franchi for “IL” magazine. Click on the image for a larger version.

Crown Jewels
The collection (a total of 140 items) is estimated to be worth at least £3 billion pounds ($4.26 billion). They’re kept in the Tower of London. Some examples are shown in this set of well-designed Royal Mail stamps.

If the Queen ever runs short of cash, this should do the trick.

The world’s worst typefaces


Above, the ugly London Olympic logo, which contains a sample of the world’s worst typeface. More about that later.
The following ranking is from Simon Garfield’s book, “Just My Type,” which is an insightful and fun read for anyone who cares about typography:


5: Brush Script My students know that I’m not a fan of fonts that mimic handwriting. To be fair, there are some good ones, but many are badly designed, and will devalue any infographic they’re slapped onto. Not exactly the language of credibility when used in a serious visual explanation. Simon: “…if you ever even momentarily considered putting Brush Script on any document at all, even in an ironic way, then you should immediately relinquish all claims to taste.”

4: Papyrus Simon: “Papyrus is the font you use to spell out the the word Egypt.” A modified version is used on this Avatar poster, but it appears in it’s standard form in the Na’vi subtitles. Recently panned by “Saturday Night Live.”

© 20th Century Fox

Simon: “Avatar cost more to make than any other film in history, but it did its best to recoup whatever it spent on 3-D special effects and computer-generated blue people by using the cheapest and least original font it could find.”

3: Neuland Inline Jurassic Park was ahead of it’s time, but the font it used was not. Simon: “It is a dense and angular type, suggestive of something Fred Flintstone might chisel into prehistoric rock.”

2: Ransom Note. Simon doesn’t feel that this font is any good for ransom notes. Having none of “…a genuine ransom note’s sweat, glue, and menace…”

1: The London Olympic 2012 typeface It’s official name is 2012 Headline. The font is intended to be edgy (I suppose), but that’s always a dangerous path to negotiate. It ended up being downright awful, and became dated in a very short time (maybe a couple of weeks). Simon: “…the worst new public typeface of the last hundred years.”

From the book: In the International Herald Tribune, Alice Rawsthorn observed that “it looks increasingly like the graphic equivalent of what we Brits scathingly call “dad dancing”—namely a middle-aged man who tries so hard to be cool on the dance floor that he fails.” And finally, my personal comment on the London Olympic logo:



It’s not easy for us to imagine the impact that “Micrographia” had back in 1665. This giant-sized flea probably shocked the reader. It was the first time that people were able to see the secrets of the natural world in such magnified detail. Robert Hooke was an architect and scientist, and his precise illustrations were a leap into the everyday micro world. By the way, the book contains the first use of the word “cell.”
(Images from the Welcome Collection.)

The head of a grey dronefly.

Sparks of fire struck from flint and steel.

A copy of Hooke’s first compound microscope is in the British Museum.

Modern magnification
Now we’re used to seeing very high-power magnifications of all kinds of things. This image of pollen was created by an electron microscope.

Photograph by the Dartmouth College Electron Microscope Facility.

A house fly photographed with a macro lens.

Photograph by Yudy Sauw:

Circular data


In this most basic use, the relative size of circles represents different values. These are numbers of views of this blog.
Circles can be effective in many situations, especially when comparing very large and very small numbers.

Divided proportional circles are proportional pie charts. This is a classic map-based example by Charles Minard, from 1858.

A few years ago, circle-mania hit the infographic world. It seems to have calmed down now, but for a while it seemed like circle plots were used for everything. And today, they are often used when another method to present the data would be clearer. An underlying issue is that we’re not good at comparing areas, so fine differences are not visually reinforced. The comparison below shows how a bar chart can be more immediate that clusters of circles. Very fine differences are immediately visible without reading any numbers. Placing the circles in ascending or descending order, and on the same base line, would help make the left-hand chart clearer, although the differences will always be more difficult to see than if bars are used.

Another concern is that the proximity and the size of shapes can confuse us. Here the black circles are the same size.

A bubble chart is a scatter plot that uses proportional circles to represent a third level of data.

And the bubble map is always worth considering. We get a good visual impression of the states with a large margin of victory in this 2016 Washington Post interactive election map.
Try the margin data at the state level.

Sometimes the use of circles in charts and maps makes data difficult to comprehend because there is a lot of overlap in congested areas of the visualization. But by far the most common problem with proportional circles is incorrect plotting. As this is an area comparison, using diameters will produce a greatly exaggerated result. The square root of the values should be calculated to get the correct ratio of the sizes. Here’s an example of the problem. The original graphic and the subsequent correction. We should applaud “Good” magazine for doing the right thing and (prominently) fixing this. Most people don’t bother.

To be fair, anyone can make a mistake. And I have certainly made my share during my long career. (But for some reason, I’m not showing any of them here!) So use circles, but like everything else in our data viz toolkit… use them wisely.

Our home


This is a companion post to the previous one, which was about the “Powers of Ten.” An explanation of the scale of the universe:

Oliver Jeffers created this beautifully illustrated book with his very young son in mind. It’s a positive view of our planet and all it’s fascinating diversity, that seems especially uplifting in these divisive times. Perhaps we need to step back, see the bigger picture and be nicer to each other. Really, why not?

In Oliver’s words, “Some things about our planet are pretty complicated, but things can be simple, too: there are lots of us on here, so be kind.”

On Amazon:

Powers of Ten


Both posts this week are about our place in the universe. In this animation, we zoom out in increments of ten (every ten seconds) from an overhead view of a couple in a Chicago park, to the edge of the known universe, then zoom back in to enter the nucleus of an atom inside a person’s hand. Charles and Ray Eames, the influential American designers, released the final version of their project in 1977. It was based on the book “Cosmic View” (1957) by Kees Boeke. See the film here:

“Powers of Ten” might not seem so ground-breaking today, but it was made long before the existence of Google Earth and the level of computer effects that we’re all so familiar with.
There have been many references to this project in pop culture. Here’s an intro to “The Simpsons”:

And the ending sequence of “Men in Black”:

A 2012 version by Danail Obreschkow:

The book version by Philip and Phylis Morrison was published in 1982. (Philip narrated the 1977 film.) The sequence is shown on 42 right-hand pages. Zooming inwards, from one billion light-years out in space to the components of an atom. A few of those steps are shown below.

New approach
This book by Caleb Scharf with diagrams by 5W Infographics and illustrations by Ron Miller, is a new approach to the “Powers of Ten” idea.

Informational illustrations


This approach scores highly in terms of being warm and friendly. I keep saying this (to the point of being really annoying, I know), but we need to engage our audience. Not always with fun, of course, but it’s one good way to go.

Sometimes they’re just for fun, with some insight included.


Wendy’s portfolio:


Prints of her illustrations are for sale here:

Plan view


Drone photography of New York landmarks by Humza Deas:

Above, the Statue of Liberty. Below, the Unisphere. Featured in a post here:

Columbus Circle.

Stuyvesant Town.

The Chrysler Building.

Carpets made using Google Earth imagery by David Hanauer:

Cruise ships by Jeffrey Milstein:

A previous post about Bernhard Lang’s overhead photographs:



Most of the flowcharts that we remember are humorous or philosophical (above example by Gustavo Vieira-Dias), but explaining a process through a series of options has many utilitarian uses in a wide range of disciplines. However, this humble infographic format has been much maligned because of it’s use in unspeakably bad PowerPoint slides and various other baffling informational material. I was in an interminable presentation recently when a thought occurred to me: No need to protect this proprietary process, just convert it into a bad flow chart. Then people will have absolutely no chance of decoding it.

Although most examples are not admirable in terms of design, many of them have a very worthwhile function. They present information about a sequence of decisions in a relatively clear way. This is especially useful in, for example, the design of computer programs.

There’s a recognized system of meanings for different shapes in a flowchart. More technical charts often use a wide range of shapes.

Before computers, templates like this were common. And they’re still available, if you want to make a chart the analog way. is a good online resource for creating flowcharts (and other process charts):

Two fun examples by Wendy MacNaughton, whose work will be featured in an upcoming post.

The pictograms are falling


It’s snowing here, but I only see pictograms. Natural geometry with beautiful irregularity. The six-fold symmetry is due to the hexagonal structure of the molecules in ice crystals. Photographed by Alexey Kljatov. See his technique, and more examples, here:

Snow crystal is the precise term for what we call a snowflake, which is a more general term that also describes clumps of snow crystals.

A classification of snowflakes by Israel Perkins Warren (c.1863).