Category: Diagrams



Harry Beck really started something. His elegant map of the London Underground (which is more of a diagram than a map) set the style of the modern subway guide. It’s designed to help people use the network. To show them clearly how to get from A to B, and make the correct connections. Beck aimed to strike a balance between a clear system diagram and the geography. This involved making some compromises with the distances between stations and their relative positions, and enlarging the center area where so many lines intersect. The first map printed in a large quantity (1933) is shown above. It was produced first as a folding, pocket-size map (shown here), and soon followed by a poster-size version. The design allowed for future expansion of the network.

The 1932 map (below) that preceded Beck’s was by F. H. Stingemore who designed the map from 1925 to 1932. The central area in the Stingemore map was slightly exaggerated and the outer stations were listed at the edges of the map. Beck’s redesign was a radical departure.

A rough drawing from 1931 shows Beck’s initial plan for his more diagrammatic map. He was an engineering draughtsman, not a graphic designer, so he looked at the project like an electrical circuit diagram.

A presentation version (1931) was rejected at first, but the following year was the basis for a test run of 500 copies. At this point, Beck was still using circles for most of the stations. He switched to tick marks in the 1933 version.

The current map is a lot more complicated with fare zones and additional subway lines.

The distortion from actual relationships to the diagrammatic map is shown in this animation. By Pham_Trinli.

In 2015, Transport for London released a more geographically-correct map that could be a real help for walkers, bikers etc. It was forced into the public area by a Freedom of Information request. Click on the image for a pdf version.

Earlier this month, Transport for London published a map for people who don’t like to be inside a tunnel, showing where the trains are actually underground. Despite the name of the system, 55% of it is above ground. Click on the image for a pdf version.

Flap books


The Human Head, by Dr. Ergo, 1913. All the examples in this post are from Professor Michael Stoll’s superb collection of historical information graphics, which I’ve featured a number of times before.

Below, the Practical Engineer, by Gustav Ripke, 1905.

Steam and Electricity Technology at the Beginning of the 20th Century, 1903, contains a steam engine diagram with moving paper parts.

New Natural Treatments for Animals, by Dr. Knoll, 1923.

Botany for Everyone, by Ferruccio Rizzatti, 1923.

The KDF-Wagen, 1939. A clever look inside the first Volkswagen Beetle using clear plastic sheets with opaque elements. We’re looking up from under the car on the left-hand page, and from above it on the right-hand page. It was published as a supplement for an issue of a magazine, “Motor Schau”.

Previously featured gems from Michael Stoll’s collection:


GREG MAXSON’S EXPLANATORY GRAPHICS.When I was the consulting graphics director for Popular Science back in the 1990s, I commissioned Greg to produce many diagrams. Like me, he began in the world of analog graphics, working with technical draughtsman tools, and by the 90s was, of course, working on the computer. Here are some examples of his precise, clear style. These instructional graphics help us with our day-to-day life, and deserve as much respect as the mega-graphics that frequently sweep up the prizes. See more of Greg’s work here:

An example below of one of Greg’s pre-computer graphics. This style was perfect for the transition to computer-based illustration.

The examples below are all digital.

Greg has drawn hundreds of buildings for VanDam’s excellent series of maps. Some examples:

Stephan Van Dam was approached by the National Gallery of Art to create a map (for the 75th anniversary of the museum), and to build a miniature version of the East Wing as a display case. Stephan and his team collaborated with Greg on the project.

The SketchUp model, and a Shaderlight rendering for the map.

The team studied the East Wing, and determined the best way to reflect the architecture in a lucite case that would hold the maps. Using SketchUp, Greg created a 3D model of the shell. Then the dividers and pockets were designed.

Making the complex case, with it’s sharp 18-degree corners was a real challenge. Stephan wasn’t able to find a model manufacturer in the U.S., but eventually a Shanghai-based shop agreed to construct it.

See the range of VanDam maps, and buy them, here:

(All map, building & display images ©VanDamMedia. All rights reserved.)



Although gratuitous motion in infographics has come in for a lot of criticism, it’s still true that animation can be very effective in a visual explanation. Here are a few examples that succeed in terms of grabbing our attention, and explaining something.

Engage our audience. Fun, humor, a little showbiz. I’m fine with all that, as long as we are clearly communicating some information.

Above: From egg to baby, by Eleanor Lutz. (There are only nine frames in this file.) This was in my very first post, about the history of infographics, as an example of the current era. (

See more of Eleanor’s work here:

Below: How fast does a spacecraft travel? Clay Bavor puts that incredible speed into a context that works for us all.

Engine combustion by Jacob O’Neill. See the whole graphic here:

Who do Mexicans trust? By Pictoline:

More rubbish


I am finding far too many of these badly-conceived graphics in my collection. I could delete the files and pretend that I didn’t create them (“What food chart?”), or post the examples here and hope there is something positive that can be taken from them. We all learn from our mistakes, and I encourage my students to be adventurous, even if potential failure lurks in the shadows.

Concorde confusion Questions: Why does the color used for Concorde and the 747 keep switching around? Was my medication wrongly prescribed? There is an interesting use of boxes as well. I have trouble believing that I am responsible for this one. On second thoughts, it must have been done by someone else. Well, that’s a relief.

Catering nonsense There is, believe it or not, an underlying logic to the chart below. I wrote it all out on a piece of paper, so there must be. One chicken represents 200 lbs. One apple equals 6,000. (What?) These items cannot be compared, and it doesn’t make any sense as a chart. This is complete crap. Memo to curriculum committee: Do not let this person teach data visualization.

Styling takes over The next infographic (might be the wrong name for it) apparently explains and compares the cockpit systems of Airbus and Boeing. It’s a very poor graphic, but a very fine example of a heavy-handed stylistic idea ruining an explanation.

NO That’s my only comment on this wheel thing.


Solar modeling



When I glue a basketball to the top of a pole in my garden, and tell people that it’s the sun, they will probably suggest that I seek urgent medical care. They are unlikely to know that it’s the first stage of my local solar model, and that I soon will be gluing a tiny .09 inch (0.22 cm) blue sphere, representing the Earth, to a fence 85 feet (25.8 meters) away. Using an online calculator, it’s easy to input any size of Sun at any location, and get the corresponding scale model metrics. This is the essential first stage in planning the big diagram.

The Sun in proportion to the planets.

There are representations of the solar system, at various sizes, in many locations. Here are a few examples.


(Photograph: bengt-re)

The world’s largest solar model is in Sweden. The Sun is represented by the huge Ericsson Globe in Stockholm. The indoor arena has a diameter of 361 feet (110 meters). Sedna, a large minor planet, is 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter, and 567 miles (912 km) from the globe, way up in the north of the country. This would be out in the farthest reaches of the solar system.

(Photograph: Dag Lindgren)


(Photograph: Michael York/The Maine Solar Model)

The Maine Solar System Model covers 95 miles (153 km).

The Sun is sometimes a painted ring, sometimes a painted shape, on multiple floors inside the University of Maine, and is 49.5 feet (15 meters) in diameter. The 5.5 inch (14 cm) fiberglass Earth is outside a car sales location just 1 mile (1.6 km) away. It’s another 39 miles (63 km) down the road past models of all the planets to 1 inch (2.54 cm) Pluto (still a planet in those days, and despite being since downgraded, is after all, still orbiting the Sun). They’ve added a dwarf planet, Eris, discovered in 2005, which is a stunning 54.5 miles south of Pluto at this scale. It’s one of the farthest known objects in the Solar System.


(Photographs: Teresacurl)

The much smaller Carl Sagan Planet walk was built in 1997 in Ithaca, New York, in memory of it’s very influential resident. It’s 0.7 miles (1.18 km) from the 10.9 in. (27.8 cm) diameter Sun to tiny Pluto, which is 0.2 inches in diameter (0.05 cm). The Sun-sized opening is a constant to compare the planets against.


A creative solar model constructed in a Nevada lakebed.


Rotating planets by Authentic Models. (Available from numerous online retailers.) Clearly not to scale. So if you give this a gift, make sure the recipient knows not to use it for calculating space probe trajectories.


Bayer’s masterpiece



This informational gem took five years to produce and contains a few thousand infographic items. I don’t own a copy, but Michael Stoll, who I mentioned in an earlier post ( ), has one (naturally) in his superb collection of historical information design. I was in Augsburg two weeks ago, and was able to examine the real thing, instead of looking at digital images. Seeing design in it’s original format, as opposed to looking at different sizes and variable image quality online (or in this blog, for that matter) is a vastly different experience. Often difficult to achieve, but worth the effort.


The atlas was produced for the Container Corporation of America to commemorate their twenty-fifth anniversary. 30,000 copies were printed. They were distributed to customers as a gift, and given to numerous colleges and universities. It was never produced commercially, or reprinted, so original atlases in good condition are quite rare, and thus expensive to acquire.

A team of three designers worked under Bayer to develop a graphic language for the book, using the color system that had been developed for CCA by Egbert Jacobsen. Bayer did his own research, traveling widely to assemble the information. There are many design influences to be seen in the pages, like the Isotype system of pictograms. I’m struck by how it looks so modern, sixty-three years after publication. It shows the staying power of precise, clear information design.


Herbert Bayer was a Renaissance Man. A graphic designer, typographer, photographer, artist, interior designer and architect who studied and taught at the legendary Bauhaus school. He emigrated to the U.S. before the Second World War, and produced all kinds of impressive design across many fields.




These images are from the David Rumsey Map Collection. See the full atlas in high-res there:

Old school


I’ve been looking at my old, pre-computer artwork again. All created with pens, ink, and a fair amount of white paint. In terms of quality, it’s a mixed bag. Not all greatness, by any means, but it has a certain hard-to-resist appeal.



A selection of architectural items that are protected by English Heritage. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

I wanted to see what was inside this boxing glove, so I cut it in half with an expensive kitchen knife, which ruined both items.


With ink around, sometimes there would be an accident. I had an unfortunate spill over a business chart, so instead of starting immediately again, I illustrated the event. And I have no idea why.


This kind of village school was disappearing. Unfortunately, it looks like all life has disappeared too. That is a problem.





Snooker cue Illustration.

Below is a cruise missile diagram painted with gouache, and airbrushed, that seems somewhat over-worked now. But bear in mind that it was very hard to go backwards in those days. There was no “Command-Z.”



For this tall buildings page, each building was drawn in pencil separately, then xeroxed and assembled as a layout. When I was happy with that stage, I began drawing the various elements in ink.



The same process was used for these space shuttle fantasies.




Trees are easy. You can quote me on that.


Portfolio infographics


Condé Nast Portfolio lasted two years. Ironically, it was sunk by the stock market meltdown of 2008, which was it’s biggest story to cover. The subsequent recession had a huge negative effect on advertising. The magazine was designed by Robert Priest and Grace Lee (, and I was the graphics director. Previously in my career I had often created my own artwork, but here I decided to mostly just design the infographics, and then get the best possible people to illustrate them.

I designed the graphics with both business people and the general public in mind, and this lighter approach generated some criticism from the infographic police, who accused me of creating image-driven graphics without enough information per square inch. Well, this is my blog, and so here it comes: They can all go and jump in the lake. I am completely done with that argument. If it is pursued relentlessly, we will not have any audience in the future.

I feel better for getting that one off my chest. It’s just my opinion.

Anyway, here are six examples from the magazine. Most of them feature the talents of Bryan Christie ( The Maglev train is illustrated by John MacNeill ( The art direction is by Priest and Grace, and the Portfolio design team, with some vital contributions from various editors and writers.
I’ll be showing some more in a future post. (Click on the infographics for larger versions.)







As a footnote, this is the cover of the magazine’s first issue, complete with transparent cover line flap.