Category: Data visualization

Colors of cars


The second of two posts that show creative video. The first one, about Black Sheep Films, is here:

Cy Kuckenbaker (based in San Diego) uses special effects to give us an idea of the relative numbers of various car colors. This seems connected visually to the “Rush Hour” video in Monday’s post, except that these really are the numbers of cars that drove past. Five minutes of footage is reorganized to put some order into the chaos. I wish I could see the world everyday with this kind of infographic vision.
The video:

More about car colors.

The 1996 Volkwagen Golf Harlequin gave owners four colors in one model.

Photograph: Konovalov

A color chart from 2012, but the numbers may not be much different today. My car is silver (I’m sure you were desperate to know that.)

Ursus Wehrli rearranges a parking lot to reveal some color data. See more of his work in this post:

Malofiej 26


Soon people who love infographics and data visualization will converge on Pamplona (Spain) to find out what’s happening in the industry, and set themselves up for a great year of graphics. The M26 conference is from March 14 to March 16. A list of speakers is here:
And registration is here:

For six days, the University of Navarra is the center of our infographic universe. M26 starts with a long-established (and widely recognized) workshop for professionals, which I was involved in for many years. That runs from March 11 to 14. This year, the instructors are Fernando Baptista (National Geographic), Larry Buchanan (New York Times) and Javier Zarracina (Vox):

I’m running an international student workshop, along with Lisa Borgenheimer who is a professor at the Free University of Bolzano in Italy. Nine of our School of Visual Communication students are taking part. Which has nothing to do with the image below from 2012, when I was making a presentation celebrating the twentieth-anniversary of the Malofiej event. I’ve put it in here just because I like it.

Photo illustration by Neria Armendáriz.

And now… some other M26 examples.
The M26 constellation is about 5,000 light-years away. There’s probably several planets with infographics in amongst these stars. Do they use script fonts? Have they discovered pie charts?

A vintage tank. We all like making graphics about military equipment…

Photograph by Sgt. Frank C. Kerr.

…and racing cars. This is a 1976 M26 McLaren.

Photograph by John Chapman.

An motorway in my home county, Kent (U.K.)


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.

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.



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)