Category: Data visualization

Outside the box


Weather An engaging prototype app by Sunny Park, designed while she was a student at SVA NYC (She’s now a UX designer at Microsoft). Sculpey clay stands in for ice cream.

Data viz For the Ablynx 2013 annual report, Soon (a studio based in Belgium) went out to the fields with sticks and colored ropes to visualize the data. They used black sand to make the backgrounds.

3D-printed Another Soon project. The Ablynx 2015 annual report.

Black cloud One day’s CO2 emissions made real by Ogilvy/Bejing.

Sarah Illenberger Creative use of everyday objects to make other everyday objects. Beautifully styled.

And paper-made illustration.

Educational challenge The number of students that dropped out of U.S. high school in 2012 averaged 857 per hour on every school day. The College Board visualized it by putting that number of desks around the Washington Monument.

Cardboard car Shannon Goff made this replica of a 1979 Lincoln Continental as a tribute to her grandfather (who owned one), and to her hometown: Detroit, the “Motor City.”

This is (incredibly) my 100th post, so to mark this earth-shattering occasion, here are a few “one-hundreds.”

I have a fake wad of $100 bills (with a belt clip) that I bought in a Halloween store. In case I want to look like I have some cash.

Neutra house numbers from Design Within Reach:

Typeface by Sawdust:

62.1 miles per hour.

Metrics Over 30,000 views of the blog so far. The most viewed post is “Tools of the trade”:

Thank you for reading the blog. I appreciate it. Happy Infographics!


Tempus fugit


Luxury clock The expensive Atmos 568 ($27,000+tax) tells the time, the month and the phase of the moon, and is powered by a gas-filled capsule. It’s close to perpetual motion, as just a one-degree temperature shift can drive it for two days. Designed by Marc Newson, who is part of Apple’s design team.

Sundial Often seen in gardens. Obviously not very effective on cloudy days. This one is indicating 3:15.

(Photograph © Antonio Ribeiro/123rf)

They are sometimes much larger and more elaborate, like this one in London. It was designed by Wendy Taylor, a sculptor.

(Photograph © Christian Mueller/123rf)

Of course, any tall object is potentially a gnomon (the center part of a sundial), and the Washington Monument is a good possibility. Some numbers on the ground are all that’s needed to convert it into a very large clock.

Or go smaller and get a sundial wristwatch:

Hourglass There’s something compelling about watching falling sand indicate the passing of time. No idea why.

(Photograph © stokkete/123rf)

Swiss simplicity This classic clock was designed in 1944 by Hans Hilfiker, who worked as an engineer for the Swiss Railway.

(Photograph: Daniel Sparing)

Personal time Juan Velasco, the infographics maestro, once described his watch as his favorite infographic. I’ve made it clear in previous posts that I love a good watch. I can’t afford this one, but I want it.

One year “The Present” tracks the seasons. Not sure why this is particularly helpful, but it looks good on the wall. “Oh look, we’re halfway through winter!” If you’re interested, you can get it here:

10,000 year clock The first prototype of “The Clock of the Long Now” is in London’s Science Museum. It’s eight-feet-tall (2.4 meters). The full-size clock will, in theory, be able to operate for 10,000 years, with proper maintenance. That 200-feet-tall (61 meters) version is being built inside a mountain in Texas on land owned by one of the project’s backers, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

(Photograph: Rolfe Horn)

The big picture An infographic that I made for “In Graphics” issue 5 contained my take on an old schoolroom favorite: Our entire history as if it happened over a 24-hour period.

The time section is shown below. Note how the dinosaurs were around a lot longer than we have been (so far).

See a preview of “In Graphics” issue 10 here:
Example spreads from the first nine issues are here:

In Graphics (2)


Jan Schwochow’s Infographics Group ( are the team behind “In Graphics” magazine. The previous post had an example from each of the first nine issues:

Here are six spreads from the new issue (shown for the first time). It’s available at:

All the images are © Infographics Group, Berlin.

Above, the cover. Below, the index.

Heartbeat comparison, from a 12-page feature. Click on the image for a larger version.

Berlin Wall history.

The Autobahn system.

The Doomsday Clock. From a 6-page feature.

Instruction manual pages. Click on the images for larger versions.

In a few weeks time, you’ll be able to buy this slipcase to hold all ten issues. It will be available here:



Cockpit displays The Garmin G1000 NXi avionics display system for business aircraft. An interface to a huge amount of flight information including navigation, weather, air traffic, terrain, and flight instrument data. All shown on high-resolution displays. It works with an app for mobile devices to enable flight plan transfer, and syncs with an aviator watch. Photographs: Garmin.

Below, up front in the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger jet. Click on the image for a 360° view.

The $400,000 helmet The F-35 Gen III Helmet Mounted Display System integrates all fight information into a head-up display on the visor. Six cameras on the plane’s exterior give complete vision in all directions. The pilot can effectively see straight through the aircraft as if it was transparent. The helmet position is tracked, so wherever the pilot looks, that view is shown on the display. Targets can be fixed by looking at them. Night-vision and video recording are built in. The accompanying accessory, the F-35 jet, costs $95 million.

Image: Rockwell Collins.

Dashboards Go modern with the Ferrari 430 Scuderia…

… or retro with the 1960 Cadillac Eldorado.

Photograph: Bob P.B.

Of course, there are head up display systems available for cars. Texas Instruments has developed this one.

Data visualization dashboards These sets of charts displaying various related metrics are often not remotely as functional as real dashboards. Something for us all to watch out for. The first results from a Google search for “dashboard” are shown below.




Semaphore I learned this message system when I was a Cub Scout a very long time ago. There were three boys in a team. One boy to send the signals using two flags, one to read the incoming signals, and one to record the received message. Other requirements were: A lot of patience, and binoculars if the distance required them. (In our case, the communicators were on each side of a small field, and could have shouted the message, but that’s missing the point.) Remember, the cellphone did not exist. Semaphore’s golden age was back in the 19th century when it was used extensively for communicating between ships. It still has some maritime uses today.

We may have looked something like this.

And, of course, after becoming masters of semaphore, we all earned a badge.

This 1940s U.S. Navy cardboard wheel helped sailors use semaphore. One side for sending, the other for receiving.

Help!: The photographer for this Beatles’ album cover, Robert Freeman, wanted the band to spell out the album title in semaphore, but he didn’t like their arm positions (aesthetically-speaking), so he went for a more pleasing arrangement. “N-U-J-V” doesn’t have quite the same impact, but it didn’t seem to bother anyone, except me and a few other ex-Scouts.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus: The British comedy group included a semaphore version of Wuthering Heights in one of their T.V. shows.

Peace symbol: Designed by Gerald Holtom in 1958 for a protest march. It’s based on the semaphore positions for N and D, standing for Nuclear Disarmament.

Maritime flags These can be used in different ways. A message can be spelled out with letters, or an individual flag can be used to convey a particular message. An example: The V flag flying alone means “I require assistance”. There are also multiple flag combinations to send various designated messages. And if both parties have the same code book, encrypted messages can be sent.


When sailing the magnificent “Grimwade,” my 120-foot (37-meter) schooner, on Lake Ohio, I often hoist 24 flags to advertise to passing boats the title of my blog.

Morse code Shown under the flags in the alphabetical list above. An elegant and effective way of communicating with short and long signals, known as dots and dashes, which are transmitted with sound or light. The best-known morse code message is SOS. Three dashes, three dots, three dashes, in a continuous stream. The spoken equivalent, developed with the advent of radio, is “Mayday” derived from the French m’aidez (“help me”).

Sign language Very important for people who cannot hear, it combines hand movements with facial expressions and body postures. It is not universal, and varies between countries and regions. This is ASL: American Sign Language.

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.

Fake data viz


If no one looks too closely, you might get away with this approach. Buy a Spirograph (my set is shown above), select some wheels, and start drawing. Then add a headline and some informational-looking labels. You’ve created an image that looks something like a real data display, and it might even be the equal of some of them, in terms of being informative.

You can always use the same image for something else, and finish work early. With any luck, no one will ever notice.

An online generator:

I recently received this diecast anniversary souvenir version as a gift. No need for data viz software. Here I come!