Category: Data visualization



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.

Use this color


If you want to to win prizes with your 2018 infographics, there’s a simple answer: Use plenty of Pantone 18-3838 Ultra Violet.

From the Pantone website: “A dramatically provocative and thoughtful purple shade, Pantone 18-3838 Ultra Violet communicates originality, ingenuity, and visionary thinking that points us toward the future.”

This other home page statement is pretty meaningful: “Complex and contemplative, Ultra Violet suggests the mysteries of the cosmos, the intrigue of what lies ahead, and the discoveries beyond where we are now.”

Read more of these kind of insights here:

And get a mug to remind you each morning:

Of course, the real ultra violet is not in the visible area of the electromagnetic spectrum. However, it gives us a sun tan (or sun burn), and makes for interesting effects in night clubs. It’s also good for killing germs. But we can’t directly see it.

Anyway, a combination of Pantone 18-3838 and a Spirograph should be enough to clean up the top data viz awards this year.
See my advice on making fake data viz here:

A general post about Pantone:



Color and light The Earth’s surface analyzed by country. By Dirk Aschoff for In Graphics magazine Volume 05, published by Golden Section Graphics, which is now IGG (Infographics Group).
Click on the images for larger versions.
I’ve posted twice before about this excellent infographic magazine:

The Blue Marble Data from NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC).
Download the 
high-resolution file here:

City lights The Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite took 312 orbits to get a complete clear shot.
Click on the image for a larger version.

Home I’m sitting here in Ohio writing this post.



Space travels 54 years of exploration. Click on the image for a larger version. By Sean McNaughton, Samuel Velasco (5W Infographics), Matthew Twombly, Jane Vessels and Amanda Hobbs for National Geographic magazine.

Decay Fruit soon displays the passage of time. Slowing down this process is the subject of a lot of research.

Cell line An African-American woman’s stem cells (taken without her knowing in 1951) have had a huge effect on medical science. Click on the image for a larger version. By Walbaum, for WIRED magazine.

Cellphone history By Fremtidens Business.

Routine Wendy MacNaughton captures the anxiety of the creative process.

Time-lapse Flowers opening. Click on the image to see the video. I think it’s worth it.

Building a massive container ship. See the video here:

The view from my New York studio, which was a room in my apartment. (I’m not there any more, but I miss it.)
Click on the image to see the video.



The Wellcome genome bookcase 118 books, each a thousand pages long, contain the 3.4 billion letters of DNA code that make up the human genome, displayed in a type size of 4.5 pts. The bookcase is part of the Welcome Collection in London.

Photograph by Russ London.

The books are numbered for the 22 pairs of chromosomes, plus X and Y. Below, the male karotype.

National Human Genome Research Institute.

Ultimate storage Our DNA carries all this information with an incredible degree of compactness. As a result, researchers are developing techniques to use DNA to store data. A single gram could potentially hold 215 million gigabytes. The artificially created strands can be read by sequencing machines. Another big plus is that DNA has the potential to last for hundreds of thousands of years, if stored correctly.

Below, the first published illustration of the double helix (in “Nature,” 1953), illustrated by Odile Crick. She was married to Francis Crick, who discovered the structure of the DNA molecule with James Watson.

A more developed version from “Nature” in 1968.

A replica of Crick and Watson’s original DNA model.

MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

Crick’s original drawing.

Data storage footnote Back in the early 1980s, 10 megabyte storage was really something (and really expensive).
That’s about $10,000 in today’s dollars.

This computer from the late 1970s cost $24,000 (adjusted for inflation).

Jack Medway


Above, Professor Jack Medway, a leading authority on data visualization and infographics. Below, his famous blog.

For IC14, the Dutch infographics conference, the organizers decided (correctly) that as I had presented at the six previous conferences, it was time for someone new. Then Frédérik Ruys had the idea that I could still be part of the program if I appeared as someone else. A change of identity began there. Frédérik created a blog so that I could rant on about infographics for a few weeks before the conference. As an opinionated professor from the (fictitious) University for the Graphic Arts in London. The blog title was my chance to make an over-the-top statement, which later became the more focused “Infographics for the People.”
It’s still online:

There was even a Facebook page for Jack.

Below, the conference program, with two very big data viz names in front of me.

I promoted a fake yet-to-be-published book: “Information and Art” on the blog…

…and referred to my real self in one of the posts.

On the day of the conference, I appeared on stage after being given a new look (and a lot more hair) by a professional makeup artist. A video of the transformation (in reverse) is here:

Some people were fooled, some were skeptical, but it was a lot of fun. I even criticized my real self during the presentation. “I’m sick of hearing Grimwade’s opinions on infographics. What makes him such a big authority?” (To be honest, that has a ring of truth about it, so let’s move quickly on.)

Why Jack Medway? Jack is a form of John, and I lived for a number of years in the Medway Towns, which are a group of towns on the River Medway in Kent, a county in south-eastern England.

UGA is a reference to UCA, the University for the Creative Arts, which is the modern name for the place where I studied Graphic Design. I used Walthamstow Town Hall as a stand-in for the UGA campus. (Photograph by Russ London)

Fernando Baptista in Ohio


Last week, Fernando Baptista visited Ohio University. He gave a presentation to a packed auditorium, and the following day he began a two-day workshop for twenty students from the School of Art + Design and the School of Visual Communication. The group used the same methods that Fernando uses to make his superb illustrations for National Geographic magazine. Undergraduates and graduates worked together in a studio that is used for art and design classes. Countries (apart from the U.S.) that were represented: China, India, Iran, the Philippines and Spain.
Photograph above by Kisha Ravi (a VisCom photojournalism student).

Day One The reference material. Students chose one of four subjects: mammoth, sperm whale, dodo or triceratops.

The equipment. Notice the figure from an animation about Trajan’s Column, who happens to be on the table. See the video here:

Fernando explains his process. Like all great professionals, he’s keen to share the lessons he’s learned during his career.

The first stage was to rough out ideas for an infographic. One student’s plans for a sperm whale graphic.

A wire armature was made to closely match the skeleton of the animal. In this case, a triceratops.

Aluminum foil was used to fill out the form (here, a dodo) before layers of Super Sculpey, a polymer modeling clay, were applied.

Adonis Durado, who was making a video of the workshop, modeling an impromptu portrait of Fernando.

At the end of the first day, the creatures were really starting to take shape. I don’t often see a table of dodos on the campus.

Day Two Refining the models. Adding the fine detail needed some serious concentration.

Small parts, like teeth and horns, were placed into a toaster oven to make them firmer, and easier to apply to the sculpture. The complete model would be hardened later this way.

Fernando showing how to use natural light to bring form and effect to a sculpture.

Photograph by Kisha Ravi.

A painted background, and some crumpled paper that will later become a rocky area in Photoshop.

Fernando tells us how a stop-motion animation of a whale can be created with simple paper shapes.

Students watch the master using his painting technique. There wasn’t enough time to paint the models, but color will be applied, either manually or in Photoshop, after the workshop. Several students told me that they intend to carry on with the projects, and develop them for their portfolios.

Photograph by Kisha Ravi.

Starting to build a computer version of an infographic.

The workshop was a huge success. In no small part because Fernando put enormous effort into working with each student to help them move forward. It was tiring for me just to watch him assisting all those students for hour after hour. Thank you, Fernando!

Photograph by Kisha Ravi.

My overall impression: This is one of the best creative experiences we’ve ever offered our students. Fernando is a craftsman with a passion for information and explanation. And one of the nicest people in our entire field.

The School of Visual Communication:
The School of Art + Design:

VisCom on Instagram:
Kisha Ravi on Instagram:

D.C. data viz


Six lessons from the experts A few weeks ago, I was in Washington with ten Scripps College of Communication students who are the pioneers of our “Semester in D.C.” program. We visited several top data visualization (and infographic) departments, who were very generous with their time. There were some common (and often encouraging) themes.

The points below are not great relevations to the people who read this blog, but perhaps it’s a good thing for us all to stop and reflect on the way forward for our field. They are skewed somewhat towards news outlets, as those were mainly the places we visited.

1. Mobile first Everyone is seeing their audience steadily migrating to mobile, so that has become a big factor in data design. Simpler, often static, displays with limited interactivity are common. Many of them are controlled by scrolling.

2. Limited interactivity On all platforms, if a tap or click is required it has to deliver something that feels worth it. Obviously, mobile (with it’s limited screen size) can be challenging for this kind of interaction anyway.

3. Design for the intended user 
Crucial when making decisions about the level of complexity, and the type of presentation. Often, displays of data are not well-enough refined for their target audience. For example, Vox aims for general consumption, especially through social media, and takes a more edited and popular approach, while the Pew Research Center provides a more comprehensive (“Fact Tank”) view for people who need more information.

4. Basic chart types are often the most effective The more challenging types of chart forms should be used with caution. Make sure that they are the best way to display the information. Often they look exciting, but are not good in terms of clearly visualizing a particular dataset.

5. Transparency Let your readers download the data that you’ve used. They can then see for themselves if the visualization clearly reflects the dataset. Even chart it themselves with their own preferred software.

6. Sketch out ideas Every department used rough visuals, drawn with pencil and paper (or it’s digital equivalent) to initially explore data presentation ideas. Great news for veteran infographic people like me who are always advocating this (to the point of being really annoying).

(In the order that we visited them). The trends mentioned above are, of course, reflected in these examples.

The Urban Institute

The New York Times (We visited the Washington Bureau.)
The cost of Hurricane Harvey:
The UpShot:
A gallery of last year’s visual stories and graphics:

5W Infographics (Juan Velasco led a one-day workshop at the National Press Club.)

The Washington Post

Vox Calories in booze:
Map projections:

NPR Gun violence:

The Pew Research Center
How voters switched candidates:

National Geographic

Data viz reflections


Information upswing Stephen Few succinctly captures the position we’re in. From his book: “Signal.” On Amazon:

The best license plate This stopped me in my tracks as I approached our building. Who owns that gem? I soon had the answer: Eric Duell, who is Vice President, Analytics and Intelligence at The E.W. Scripps Company. The BMW i3 REX is electric with a gas-powered engine to extend it’s range. (Notice that data viz people are eco-conscious.)

Only one person in Ohio can have this plate, and it’s clearly not going to be me.

The sweet spot
In terms of understanding, it’s halfway along the information axis. Jessica Hagy’s blog:

Data pretzel I see a lot of data viz, and (of course) there’s some brilliant examples, but also a lot of scary stuff. However, there’s plenty of room for optimism. Although data visualization has been around for a very long time, a fundamental component has changed: we now have unprecedented amounts of data. And there’s many new ways to edit and display this information, so let’s give the process time to develop. (Photograph © annete/123rf)

Venn diagram


This brilliant example is by GuyBlank. There’s a t-shirt version here:

Venn diagrams are used to show commonalities and differences, primarily in mathematics, statistics and logic. Named after John Venn, a logician and philosopher, who highlighted them in an 1881 paper. They were developed from Euler diagrams of the 18th Century. By the way, Venn also built a machine that bowled cricket balls.

In the popular sector, they’re mainly used for jokes.

Below, a serious Venn diagram that shows the common uppercase letters of the Greek, Latin and Russian alphabets. (From Wikipedia)

And now back to the jokes…


Mitch Goldstein’s site, “A Helpful Diagram,” highlights the concerns of designers and design students: