Category: History

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.

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:

The dataviz album cover


The iconic art for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures (1979) was designed by Peter Saville. The source was a stacked plot in the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy (1977) that shows pulses from the first pulsar to be discovered, CP 1919.

The image remains very popular today. I wonder if many people know where it comes from?

3D version by Marvin Bratke.

The Unknown Pleasures image has been the source for many tattoos. Below is an extreme example.

The vinyl version is a packaging gem.

Details below.


Jen Christiansen’s excellent blog has two posts about the scientific background:

Jen told me that when she wears her cat lovers’ shirt (designed by Tobe Fonseca), a lot of people ask about it.

Tools of the trade (2)


My first tools post is the most popular of the 65 posts that I’ve made so far. So following the Hollywood tradition, there has to be a sequel. Here are some more of the common things that we used to have in the graphics studio. Thank you to everyone who gave me an idea for this. Of course, there are many more tools that I haven’t covered, so I will do yet another post about them in the future.

This is the model that I used. The DeVilbiss Aerograph Super 63. I had many exciting moments spraying paint and ink.

Special templates
It wasn’t all about ellipses and circles. There were many other types, for specialized use.

Map wheel
For measuring distances on maps. You would set the scale, and start rolling it between places. Remember, there was no internet!

Graphic tape
Adhesive-backed tape, available in many widths and styles. We could potentially create almost perfect rules and boxes using a knife such as the one shown below.

Surgical scalpel
We were like surgeons. Well, kind of. The Swann Morton scalpel is frighteningly sharp. Of course, there were accidents. (The X-Acto knife was popular in the U.S.)

Rubylith film
Shown in previous posts about mechanical art. Essential for creating intricate overlays that would be converted to process colors for printing. I loved cutting it with the scalpel, and peeling back the red top layer. I would pretend that it was a surgical prodecure: “Hand me my scalpel!” “Yes, doctor”.

Frisket film
Adhesive film for masking when airbrushing. Did not damage the delicate paint surface.

Rubber cement
Used for sticking down anything that was on paper. Surplus glue could be easily cleaned up with a ball made from… rubber cement. In the U.K. we used “Cow Gum”. There is absolutely no connection to the large animals that we see eating grass in fields. The glue was manufactured by the F.P. Cow Company.

Hot wax largely replaced rubber cement where I worked. You could reposition things easily. I love the name: ‘Lectro-Stik”.

Good for cleaning up artwork and equipment. We used to carelessly leave the cap off, and I used to smoke. I have no idea how I avoided blowing up the graphics department.

One way to get some typesetting was to rub down each individual letter from a dry-transfer sheet. It was slow, and really only practical for headlines. We had a stack of sheets with rarely used characters on them. “Anyone have any vowels in 24 pt Helvetica?”

Railroad pen
For drawing roads. Try using this when you’ve had a few drinks.


The incredible Bollmann map workshop (2)


(See Part 1 here:

Perspective effect
The maps are obviously not drawn in perspective. They use a modified axonometric projection, invented by Hermann Bollmann. With this kind of parallel projection, the scale is constant across the map. A 45-degree angle gives the best compromise of dimension and clarity, and each map has it’s own unique viewpoint which is chosen to best show that city. The color palette is also selected on a case-by-case basis.

Detail from the Stuttgart map.

The secret of success
Why do Bollmann’s maps seem so much more informative, in terms of being useful navigational aids, than aerial photos and 3D-rendered views like Google Earth? There is a lot of high-tech, data-driven mapping at our disposal, but it is no match for their informational artistry. A key factor is that the Bollmann maps are not drawn in an exact realistic proportion. Otherwise we would mostly see roofs with compressed facades, which would not be useful for helping navigation on the ground. Buildings are adjusted to be more visually descriptive without compromising the character of the structure. A vertical exaggeration of between 120% and 170% is applied, depending on the character of the city. Also, the streets have been considerably widened, so we can clearly see them and their labels. It’s not obvious until you compare one of these maps to an aerial photo. “We draw cities from above, as you see them from below”, says Sven. Like all good informational graphics, the interpretation enhances our understanding. A crucial point. It’s why many 3D-rendered maps are very unsatisfying. Just disappointing pieces of technical wizardry, in terms of wayfinding, without this careful infographic intervention.

Detail of the Wiesbaden map.

Detail of the Hamburg map.

Master mapmaker
Above is Thomas Greve’s workstation, where he spends many hours making hand-drawn map corrections. It’s a mixture of analog and digital. Photos from the street, and from the air, are on the monitor. Areas needing attention are marked in green. The detail below (different from the one shown above) shows the painstaking checking and correction process.

Advertising pays the bills
90% of Bollmann’s income is from companies having their small logo placed on a map. This has been the business model since the company began. Without that source of revenue, they would not have been able to maintain their standards. Well, not without having to charge a very high price for each map. The current cost of a folded city map is 6.90 Euros (about $7.25).

New York City
I mentioned in an earlier post, the classic map of the 1964/65 World’s Fair that I have on the wall in my office:
To mark my visit, the Bollmanns presented me with the best gift imaginable, a specially-printed oversize version of the classic map of New York City. This 1962 tour-de-force was based on 50,000 street-level photographs, and 17,000 from the air. The print is huge and magnificent, and framing it will cost me a very large amount of money, but I’m finding a wall and this is going on it. Here is Michael Stoll* standing near the map, and perhaps wishing it was his.

A big thank you to Sven Bollmann for his invaluable help with these two posts. And for that amazing map!

Bollmann Maps:

(All map images © Bollmann Bildkarten. All photographs by Bollmann Bildkarten, or Michael Stoll.)

*Professor Stoll organized this trip for myself and four of his students from the Augsburg University of Applied Sciences. Michael’s superb collection of classic information design has featured in this blog a number of times already, and will be here in the future.

The incredible Bollmann map workshop (1)


Detail from the 1962 map of New York City.

On the 18th of November last year, I stepped into a time tunnel, and stepped out into the offices of Bollmann Maps in Braunschweig, Germany. And I mean that in the best possible way. These cartographers produce all of their maps with the same methods that have been in use since 1963. Everything is hand-crafted. The production process is completely analogue. They use pen and ink on overlay film, photograph it with a classic 1950s line art camera, and print on their own 1965 printing press. (Bollmann Maps:

Jan at work on a set of map overlays.

Care, craftsmanship, quality. This visit was a unique and memorable experience. Sven Bollmann, and his brother Jan, showed our group around. Their pride in the work was evident everywhere, and so refreshing to see. Whatever they have achieved has been through solid, hard work and by relentlessly applying the highest standards. If I had the Grimwade Gold Award of Informational Graphic Excellence to hand out, they would be getting it by FedEx two-day express shipping.

After the Second World War, Hermann Bollmann (Sven’s grandfather) was looking to record, as part of the rebuilding process, the devastation from the Allied bombing of Braunschweig. So in 1948, he decided to make an aerial-view illustrated map. The 69-year story of Bollmann Maps began right there. The first map was made purely from street-level observations, not from aerial photographs. Today, the company has a catalogue of about 100 maps, most of which they update every five years or so. The list includes many German cities, but also Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Jerusalem, and several other international urban centers. There is a staff of 10, including three artists and cartographers. Each map takes a maximum of one year to produce (or it would be out-of-date by the time it is printed), and thousands of aerial and street-level photographs are used as references.

Map number one: Braunschweig, 1948. The complete map and a detail.

Hermann sketching on location.

The original Street View
In 1958, Hermann bought a Volkswagen taxi that he fitted with a camera, raised on a pole through the sunroof, and triggered by the revolution of the wheels so that it took a photo every 65 feet (20 meters). Now a modern small car (with a sunroof) is used.

Below, the original aircraft camera with it’s model construction kit parts.

In the air and on the ground
I sat in the Bollmann aircraft (shown above). A 1954 Cessna 170B that was also purchased in 1958, and is used to this day for aerial reference, and now flown by Sven. The instrumentation has never been changed, although they’ve added a radio and a transponder. It’s a three-faceted reference-gathering operation. The artists walk the streets making visual notes, with a pencil on paper, a car drives around with a camera taking continual photographs, and the plane flies overhead taking images at the angle of the illustrated maps. This combination leads to a unmatched level of mapping accuracy. As anyone who has used Google Street View for reference knows, the dates of the images are very variable, and there can often be buses, trucks and other objects blocking the view. The Bollmann approach means that they are not dependent on anyone else. In our world of infographics that are too often based on an internet search (for various complicated reasons), the integrity of their information is complete. They can approach any project with complete confidence that it is correct, and their reputation is built on that.

A detail from the Cologne (Köln) map.

To be continued in the next post…


(All map images © Bollmann Bildkarten. All photographs by Bollmann Bildkarten, or Michael Stoll.)

Flight visualized


I’m in Munich this week for the EDCH and INCH conferences. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s also an exhibition of my work here that was put together by Professor Michael Stoll. So it seems appropriate that today I should feature a book that is in Michael’s impressive historical information design collection. This 1945 gem is a favorite of mine.

The Graphic Engineering Staff at General Motors (how about that for a department title!) produced this aircraft training manual. The project was directed by Harvey Earl, who was the leader of GM’s automotive styling team. Incidentally, he introduced the idea of the tail fin, which took its inspiration from aircraft design.

(Book photographs by Michael Stoll.)

The 1959 Cadillac’s tail fins. (Photograph by Christer Johansson.)

The P-38 Lightning was a source of inspiration for the original tailfin concept.



An exhibition of my career starts on Thursday in Munich. (See below.) A fair amount of my original artwork from the 70s and 80s is on show there. I’ve put a lot of it in previous posts, but here a few other pieces. And after this I will stop. I promise.

The graphic above was for The Times (1980s), before the new British Library opened. I worked from the architect’s plans. Unfortunately, I ran out of room on the left, and had to tape a piece of artboard on to the side to support the inset. The reduction of 67% was standard for me. I worked at 150% of the final size.

This is a garden for people who use a wheelchair (from the Sunday Times in the late 1970s). The different perspectives seem slightly uncomfortable, and it badly needs a person for scale. I’ve often criticized students for leaving out any trace of humanity, and here I’ve done it myself.

For a feature page on Afghanistan, which has been racked by conflict for a very long time. This is from The Times (1980s).

Heavily influenced by Nigel Holmes’ and Richard Draper’s work in the Radio Times . I loved their dimensional arrows, and I wanted to do some. The headline is not big enough. In fact, there is little hierarchy here.

This kind of artwork is featured in an exhibition this week, at the EDCH and INCH conferences.
I will also be giving one of the keynote presentations at INCH, and running an information graphics workshop called “The Infographic Upgrade”. It will try to make it both informative and fun.

Design conference:

Infographics conference

Infographic workshop:




My exhibition in Munich next month (see below) has been the source of a number of posts recently. I’ve been back through the artwork years, looking at bashed-up “mechanicals” and dubious, yellowing pencil drawings. I can see now that I was always leaning towards infographics, even though I didn’t really know what infographics were. Apart from some handed-down copies of the Eagle comic (post link here), I had acquired a small collection of graphically-inclined publications. I really liked the “Observer’s Books,” which were pocket-sized guides to various subjects with simple profile illustrations. I’ve had this aircraft book since I was 11-years-old, and that was a stupendously long time ago. I’m surprised that it hasn’t crumbled to dust. The butterfly book is another gem from the same series.

School-era drawings. I was not a budding Leonardo da Vinci. Clearly.

Below is my first attempt at graphic design. I wish I could have drawn my nation’s flag correctly, and the type is an interesting choice of font, but hey, I was fifteen. The message contained here might be even more important after Brexit.

Probably my first infographic. Part of a series of “How a telephone works” diagrams. The lead lines are… creative.

Another early attempt at an infographic style.

I had an idea that I could work for a London-based design group and make high-end corporate logos. I was an optimistic person back then.

A very early professional illustration about splitting up the educational districts of Great Britain. I saw myself as an editorial illustrator, until someone told me bluntly that I’d never make it. That person was right. I didn’t really see it clearly then, but my heart was already in informational graphics.

This 1970s graphic, drawn with Rotring Variant pens with Letratone tints, is influenced by those beautiful “Observer’s Books”.

I’ll be in Munich next week, at the EDCH and INCH conferences in the Alte Kongresshalle. There is an exhibition of my work being put on there by Professor Michael Stoll, with the assistance of some of his students from the Augsburg University of Applied Sciences.
I will also be giving one of the keynote presentations at INCH, and running an information graphics workshop called “The Infographic Upgrade”. My aim is to make that both instructional and fun.

Design conference:

Infographics conference

Infographic workshop: