The 42nd Street globe


In the lobby of the Daily News Building, a 1930 art deco classic on New York’s 42nd Street, is a magnificent globe that’s 12 feet (3.7 meters) in diameter and rotates under a black glass ceiling. The building and lobby are sometimes cited as the inspiration for the Daily Planet newspaper in the Superman comic series. This idea was supported by the fact that the building (and the globe) featured in the 1978 Superman movie (below).

However, the source for the Daily Planet headquarters was the Old Toronto Star Building (below). Superman co-creator Joe Shuster once worked for the Toronto Daily Star as a newspaper boy, and in the early Superman comics the newspaper where Clark Kent worked was called The Daily Star.

Back to New York City: The Daily News Building’s lobby has meteorological instruments, and clocks with the time in various international cities. The globe is the center of a vast imaginary diagram. There are statements positioned around it with the distances to planets and stars expressed as the distances to landmarks, if the Sun was shrunk to the same size of the globe. So then the Earth would be at Grand Central Station, just down the street (and quite small), and Alpha Centuari would be 68,000 miles away. I love a solar model, as this previous post pointed out:

The South Pole is reflected in a mirror.

This relative-size graphic of big globes appeared in a post about another (and much bigger) NYC globe, the Unisphere: 

Photographs by Michael Stoll.



The Picto watch (designed in 1984) takes timekeeping down to the minimum.

Softer Than Steel chair by Nendo for Desalto. Nendo’s simple and elegant work:

Chocolatexture by Nendo for MAISON&OBJET. Chocolates as representations of Japanese words for texture.

Symbols can say a lot with an economy of image. Like this classic atomic icon.

Swiss graphic design has an inherent simplicity:

Camera designed by Jonathan Ive and Marc Newson.

Album covers The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd, 1973.

Coexist, The xx, 2012.

Words of wisdom Some well used quotes, but they’re still worth revisiting:

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary, so that the necessary may speak.” Hans Hofmann

John Maeda’s book is a thought-provoking read:

Archaeological pictograms


Fabienne Kilchör designed the font, Diglu, to help communicate archaeological information to a target audience. The project is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

As a graduate student at Bern University, Fabienne began the development of the font as a research project for her Ph.D thesis. She approached the Archeology Department because she felt that data visualization is too often directed at scientific communication, and she wanted to contribute to humanities and cultural studies. Two other factors: Fabienne has a personal interest in archaeology, and archaeologists have plenty of data to work with.

After an initial discussion with a professor, she identified areas where information graphics could possibly make a difference. Then she started looking for new methods to visualize archaeological data.

Starting the process The first stage was to interview archaeologists and to analyze numerous reports and publications, looking for places where difficulties in communication could be improved with a visual tool. There were two weeks of field research in Turkey, working with archaeologists. (Photograph by Susanne Ruthishauser)

Back in Berne, Fabienne began making rough sketches from photographs and archeologists drawings, before moving to Illustrator to create the vector images. Using variable widths, she designed two or more different pictograms. After presenting the different variations to an archeologist (the end-user), one was chosen, and that design was refined further. An exhaustive criteria-grid helped to decide the ideal pictograms. Criteria like “recognition” or “degree of differentiation” were very important. The result of all this development was a pictorial font, Diglu, that could be used in reports, books, presentations, maps, charts and diagrams. It’s really a system of mini-infographics.

Reducing complexity, and creating a unified set of symbols, in terms of gray value and spacing, were key parts of the overall design.

Consistency across text characters and pictograms was a priority.

The font comes in a full range of weights.

Key point Fabienne not only used the principles of font design, but also the principles of information design. The Diglu font is a hybrid of both those worlds.

Diglu is intended to be a uniform visual language. Typography meets information, design meets science.

Use in text:

Use in diagrams:

The font will be available in June here:

Work by Emphase, the studio that Fabienne runs with Sébastien Fasel in Lausanne, Switzerland, can be seen here:

Science decoded


“For science infographics, I try to find a visual story that I can use to make the information more engaging. For example, I’ve used burning paper sculptures to talk about forest fires, or architectural drawings to talk about human spines. It’s important to make sure the visual wrapper doesn’t affect the information inside the infographic, but I think there’s a fairly wide range of styles that can fit that requirement.”

This is “Science for the People”. Superb visualizations that explain complex subjects clearly and concisely. See a lot more at Eleanor’s website:

Below, embryo development in the style of a furniture assembly guide. (Click on the image for a higher resolution version.)

The mechanics of breathing.

The motion here is not necessary for informational reasons but, in terms of engagement, it works superbly.

From a set of virus trading cards. Definitely not what we want to be exchanging.

Red blood cell disorders. The decorative style is inspired by hand-woven rugs and Rococo stucco work. (Click on the image for a higher resolution version.)

Eleanor made plants from paper for a set of six graphics about species that have adapted to fire-prone conditions. Two are shown here.


A Victorian steam-punk approach to baby heart development. (Click on the image for a higher resolution version.)

The spinal cord explained in an architectural style. (Click on the image for a higher resolution version.)

I’ve shown this graphic in two previous posts, but I’m showing it again. Just nine frames, and I love it!

Eleanor is studying for a PhD in Biology at the University of Washington.

Paper graphics


Petals by Charlene Lam.

“I currently live in Umeå, a city at latitude 63° 50′ N in northern Sweden. Our winter days are short and summer days are long. Using the lengths of daylight for the first of each month, I created a visualization with 12 “petals”. The outer loop of each petal represents the 24 hours in the day; the inner loop is the length of daylight, ranging from 4h 33m on January 1 to 20h 34m on July 1. The simple lines suggest the passing of time, as well as the promise of spring to come.”
This elegant graphic won a paper-based visualization competition.

Bert Simons makes portraits of people out of paper. After taking photographs, he uses 3D software to produce the printout that, when cut and folded, magically creates a faceted recreation of the person.

Hang your friends heads on the wall like hunting trophies!

The technique developed further.

Gretchen Nash has a suitcase of childhood letters and notes that she analyzed into categories (like swear words, nicknames and holidays), and then used paper to make infographics for a book, “Dear Gretchen”. It was her senior thesis project at CalArts.

For this Good 100 issue, a team led by guest art director Brian Rea, produced all the illustrations from cut paper.

The left over pieces made a fun spread.

Sketching infographics

Hand-drawn explanations by Adolfo Arranz.

Whale hunt Adolfo’s infographics are drawn on an iPad or a Wacom tablet, using either Corel Painter or Photoshop.

City of Anarchy “The idea came to me when I visited Kowloon Park, which is where the walled city once stood. The inspiration was a plaque in the park that has a silhouetted illustration showing a cross-section of the settlement. Good research was very important, and a great resource was a book, “City of Darkness” by Greg Girard and Ian Lambot. It’s full of photos of daily life inside this makeshift city that had up to 50,000 residents.

Click on the image below to see a higher resolution version.

A detail.

The viewpoint is inspired by a famous comic-book series by Francisco Ibanez, that appeared in Spain in the 1960s and 70s.

The process From rough notes, to sketch, to digital artwork.

Kitamura-irlo Made on the iPad Pro with the Procreate app. Click on the image to see an animation of the drawing stages. Please note: It takes a while to load!

Sketchbook Adolfo makes sketches everywhere he goes using markers, pencils, and rollerball pens. He paints them with watercolors. “Developing drawing skills, learning to compose on paper, learning to see”.

Adolfo is Deputy Head of Infographics and Illustration at the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.




There’s something immensely satisfying about writing with a fountain pen, especially in our ballpoint-driven world. Ink on paper with a well-designed pen, like the Sailor below. Hard to beat that. (

The fountain pen was invented in 1827 by Petrache Poenaru, who upgraded the dip pen by adding an internal reservoir of ink.

Beautiful nibs by Laban.

An infographic that tells us everything we probably want to know about fountain pen nibs. Click on the image for a larger version. (

In New York City, there’s the Fountain Pen Hospital. You can get an antique pen repaired, or buy a new one. (

For people with truckloads of money, there are some alarmingly expensive examples. You can whip one of these out when required to sign a contract, and dazzle everyone with the gold and diamonds.

The Golden Man HRH by Visconti (above), costs $44,000. Encrusted with 250 white diamonds (2.5 carats).

This one might need to be kept in a bank vault. The Aurora Diamante is a mere $1.5 million. It’s embedded with 30 carats of diamonds, and only one is made per year.

Less but better


For forty years, the iconic German designer applied his careful, minimalist aesthetic to the Braun product line. His work has been a considerable (and recognized) influence on Jonathan Ive, who is the Chief Design Officer of Apple, and the connection is easy to see.

The SK4 is known as “Snow White’s coffin”, a reference to its transparent plexiglass lid. The nickname was coined by Braun’s competitors. This radio/record player, called a “Phonosuper” by Braun, was designed in 1956.

Rough concept drawings (below) by Rams.

By the way, I’m wearing this watch while writing this post.

Dieter Ram’s ten design principles.

Good design:
1. is innovative.
2. makes a product useful.
3. is aesthetic.
4. makes a product understandable.
5. is unobtrusive.
6. is honest.
7. is long-lasting.
8. is thorough down to the last detail.
9. is environmentally friendly.
10. involves as little design as possible.

A good Dieter Rams resource:

Tools of the trade (3)


Colored pencils A blast of color when you open the lid. I’m still using a set of these, and often replacing the blue ones. Not sure what the significance of that is, but my therapist is helping me sort that out.

Flexible curve Good in theory, but difficult to hold to an exact line. Fun to bend around though.

Paintbrushes It’s always worth paying for good brushes. I once bought a cheap set, and they left a trail of hairs wherever I used them. It was a false economy.

Registration marks In the mechanical artwork years, I used a shocking amount of these. They were adhesive-backed, and came in rolls. Three were needed on every single overlay.

Transfer paper For putting a pencil drawing onto line board to be inked in. Works surprisingly well.

Spray glue The air in the studio was sometimes quite intoxicating, a heady mixture of Spray Mount and Magic Marker fumes. Perhaps I hallucinated my way through all those pre-computer graphics. I seem to remember that I smiled a lot during those years. That is certainly not the case now.

Magic Markers Happy days. See above.

Solvent dispenser Filled with Bestine solvent (see previous tools post). We were squirting solvent left, right and center.

Grant Projector Every studio in the U.K. had one of these substantial items. For enlarging and reducing images optically, as there were no copiers with exact sizing capability in those days. I spent a lot of time with my head stuck inside the top part, and it could get quite warm.

Drafting table Fitted with a parallel motion. Bottle of ink + angled desktop = problems.

Adjustable set square For precise angles. I liked adjusting it more than using it.

Flat files Where the artwork (good and bad) lived. Made out of steel. Weighed a ton.

Previous “Tools of the trade” posts:
Part 1:
Part 2: