Category: History

Sweets (Candy)


Selection guide A piece of simple, and useful, infographic magic. (Click on the image for a larger version.)

Savoy Truffle The lyrics of this 1968 Beatles’ song refer to Good News chocolates. They contain a warning about the risk of future dental problems: “…you’ll have to have them all pulled out.”

Creme Tangerine and Montelimar
A Ginger Sling with a pineapple heart
A Coffee Dessert, yes, you know it’s Good News
But you’ll have to have them all pulled out after the Savoy Truffle.

Hear it The section of “Savoy Truffle” described above is here:
Or get the full song on iTunes:

Sweet thesis My art school final project was called “Sweets.” I’m afraid that this unbelievably-great graphic artifact is lost deep in the vaults of the massive Grimwade Museum of Infographics (which is on the Isle of Sheppey), but I do remember that one component was photographs of Everton Mints. There’s something inherently graphic about many types of confectionary.

Photograph © Mark Fairey/123rf

Five Boys My favorite vintage candy label contains a strange message. What does it mean?
Are these the five stages of an infographic project?

Leonardo who?


Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was so ridiculously multi-talented, that it’s hard to believe he existed. Leonardo often wrote backwards for reasons that are not entirely clear, perhaps as he was left-handed, it meant that he didn’t smudge the ink. Anyway, a genius of his magnitude can do whatever the hell he wants. The Vitruvian Man (above) is just one of many iconic images Leonardo created (the Mona Lisa is top of that list). The drawing is based on the relationship of ideal human proportions to geometry, as described by the Roman architect, Vitruvius, who considered them to be fundamental to classical architecture.
References to the Vitruvian Man appear all over the place. An example: NASA’s extravehicular activity (EVA) arm patch.

From the Codex Leicester (also known as the Codex Hammer), which is owned by Bill Gates. 18 sheets of paper full of ideas and observations about topics like water, geology, and light from the moon.

“Salvator Mundi,” sold for $450.3 million on November 15, which is a new world auction record for any piece of art.

We all know about Leonardo’s many inventions: flying machines, solar power etc. In an era of conflicts all over Europe, it’s not surprising that war machines were on his mind. Hence this design for a giant crossbow. Note the size of the operator.

Had this weapon ever been put into use, the results would have been interesting.

Perhaps it’s time to get your Leonardo action figure. The quote on the box says it all.

Photographs above © Sergey Novikov/123rf, Burmakin Andrey/123rf



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).

Color wheels


Above,“Farbkreis” from “The Art of Color” (1961), by Johannes Itten, a Swiss painter and theorist who taught at the Bauhaus. This 12-hue circle is made up of three primary, three secondary and six tertiary colors.

“The Color Star” (1986) has eight disks with cut-outs that can be rotated over Itten’s star to compare colors.

Now we have so many excellent digital color aids, like Adobe Color:

But… I still remember art theory classes way back in art college. They were not that easy (we used to moan about them), but in retrospect, it was important knowledge. The basic concepts: primary, secondary, and tertiary colors (primary and secondary mixed). Hue, saturation, temperature, and so on. I know I sound like a dinosaur (and I do certainly fit that description), but I wish my students had a color theory class. These are valuable lessons to learn.

Color Wheel 101: Complimentary colors are opposite each other. Analagous colors are next to each other. White, which represents all color, is in the center.

Some historical examples:

From “The Natural System of Colors” by Moses Harris, 1776.

From “Theory of Colors” by Johann Wolfgang von Geothe,1810.

From “The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors” by Michel Chevreul, 1839. A 72-part circle.

“Color Panel” by Wilhelm von Bezold from “The Theory of Colors in Arts and Crafts,” 1874.

There are many online color wheels like this one, in RGB:

And analog ones are available, like this:

A previous post about the color books used to choose CMYK colors in the pre-computer era:

Wall charts


It’s time for another visit to Michael Stoll’s superb collection of historical graphics. Before the computer, these big infographics were essential teaching aids. Of course, their (mostly inferior) descendants are common in classrooms today. I asked Michael for his general thoughts about this genre and some comments about these examples.

“Wall charts are a dying species in an era where everything is digitized and online. This is a shame, because having something physically present in a classroom and encouraging a conversation about it, makes more of an impression than a screen, especially as these charts are so large.

I remember being sent by a teacher to the wall chart room at our school to get a particular example. I spent more time just looking at the other charts (there were a huge number of them) instead of concentrating on the task. As a teacher myself, I often wonder how other teachers used these charts to explain things to their pupils. A wall chart can be seen as a didactic element. It emphasizes visualization over explanation. Wall charts were also used as promotional material by companies, that wanted to enable deeper understanding of their products, or provide background information.”

Anatomy (Shown above) Naturalien und Lehrmittel, Anatomie, Biologie Tanck & Wegelin, Hamburg Altona. c.1950
“These are considered to be the most accurate anatomical charts. While each one will work on its own, I love the effect of the series. The reader can jump between them and make comparisons or draw conclusions.”

Botany (Shown below) Jung, Koch, Quentell—Lehrmittelverlag Hagemann, Düsseldorf. c.1963
“Two rather old examples from the world-famous publisher. While the newer ones are offset printed, the older ones were produced using lithographic printing, which provides a lot of detail. The arrangement is fascinating, in that the chart still works although the parts of the plants are not to scale. This is called adaptive scaling. And the items stand out clearly against the black background.

Insects Jung, Koch, Quentell. c.1963
“The layout is set up in three logical stages: what we normally see (which references what the reader recognizes), what is going on hidden from the human eye (which connects this information to what we normally see), and a very detailed deconstruction of the animal (which has the highest density of information).”

Paper production “Mounted onto stiff cardboard, this chart takes one further step: there are samples of real wood, chemicals and colors sealed in small plastic bags which are attached to the poster.”
(Editor’s note: I’ve used the red line a lot in my graphics:

Engine Beautifully rendered, lithographic printing. Larger than actual size. This scaling allows more detail.

Battery “Also printed using the lithographic process. The car diagram shows the relevance of a battery like this. This chart is a visual depiction of how important electricity was for cars back then.”

Aircraft “The chassis of this plane was made entirely from aluminum. I followed this example on eBay, and the price skyrocketed. I eventually bought it, but wondered about the high price. So I contacted the manufacturer, and found out that these charts were delivered with the aircraft. And there were only two models with these engines delivered.”


The much more common Ju52/m3.

Photograph by Rror.

Previous posts from Michael’s collection:
Eye model:
Flap books:
Flight thru Instruments:
Herbert Bayer’s Geo-Graphic Atlas:
The Atlas to Alexander von Humboldt’s “Kosmos”:

Michael Stoll teaches media theory and infographics at the Augsburg University of Applied Sciences, where he is head of the information design study track in the Department of Design.

Mercator projection


Gerardus Mercator’s world map dates from 1569. The scale is equal in all directions around any point, which keeps the angles and shapes of small objects intact. It worked really well for nautical navigation (which at that time was extremely important) because routes without changes of direction are straight, and consequently this projection became the standard. All map projections obviously distort the globe as they translate it to a flat surface, and the Mercator projection has a serious level of distortion the farther it moves from the equator. Greenland and Antarctica are quite substantial, to put it mildly. Europe is larger than it should be, which suited everyone back then.

Nevertheless, the projection has been a staple component of atlases until relatively recently. This site shows the Mercator-effect scale differences. Try it:

By contrast, the Gall-Peters projection accurately shows the relative size of land areas, but there’s considerable distortion, especially along the equator and at the poles. Also, like the Mercator, distances are not consistent. Consequently, many cartographers are not convinced that this is the way to go either. Nevertheless, UNESCO and UNICEF support this projection as a way of showing a fairer representation of the relative size of the developing countries.

I’ve always liked the Robinson projection. It doesn’t tick all the boxes, but at least the land areas look something like they do on a globe.

Many online applications (like Google Maps and OpenStreetMap) use a variant of the Mercator projection called Web Mercator. Why? Because with it’s parallel longitude and latitude lines, it scales really well from large-scale maps to local views, and north is always vertical. Distortion on a local scale is minimal. (I’ve been to the location below a lot in the last few years.)

Here’s a WordPress map of views of this blog. No readers in super-sized Greenland. So far.

Mercator, Gall-Peters and Robinson images by Strebe.



There are countless signs in the U.S. National Highway System, and the typeface that is used on them is the subject of a long-running argument about the attributes of two informational fonts.

Typeface upgrade In the 1990s, Clearview (or ClearviewHwy) was designed to replace the existing road sign typeface, the Standard Highway Alphabet (or Highway Gothic). That font dates from the 1940s. Initial testing showed Clearview to be 2 to 8 percent more legible. A later test showed an improvement of as much as 12 percent. Unfortunately, further testing suggested that it might not be as effective at night as the original signs, despite the fact that a goal of the new design was to reduce excessive glow on reflective signs.

Upper and lower The existing road sign typefaces were used in a system where originally almost every word was capitalized. Clearview was designed to address the use of uppercase and lowercase characters with larger counter spaces and increased x-height. The space inside letters like “e,” “a” and “d” is much larger. The overall effect is intended to be increased legibility. Below, Highway Gothic and Clearview alphabets compared.

On and off In 2004, Clearview was provisionally approved by the Federal Highway Administration for use on positive signs (light characters on a dark background). But it was never approved for black on a light background, although some agencies used it this way. By 2014, there was a government-level move to stop using it, and by 2016 it was deauthorized. However, a bill was introduced in April this year asking Congress to approve Clearview for positive contrast signs.

In 2011, Clearview became the first digital font to be made part of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. It has had some non-highway use, such as AT&T corporate applications and advertising, and signs at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Mixed signage Some states use Clearview and some states don’t. Ohio, where I live, had switched a lot of signs to Clearview, and now it’s started switching back to Highway Gothic (a process that will take decades). Many states have some signs in each font, due to the replacement of signs during different stages of the Clearview approval/non-approval process.

Money Clearview, unlike Highway Gothic, is not free. It’s licensed to state agencies. Is this a factor in it’s difficult path to acceptance? It’s been suggested that it might be the case.

Clearview was designed by Meeker & Associates and Terminal Design:


Book cover design


Vintage The beauty of these decorative book covers stands the test of time. Examples from the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Graphic animation
Henning M. Lederer has brought motion to some 1950s, 60s, and 70s graphic covers.

There’s a lot more. 55 examples are shown in this video:
And 36 more here:

Examples from 2016 and 2017. Below, design by Oliver Munday.

Design by Jaya Miceli. Art by Valerie Hegarty.

Design by Will Staehle.

Design by Mark Swan.



Wartime World War II wings.

Bike Historical (and beautiful) bicycle head badges.

Soviet era I bought these enamel badges, pinned to a postcard, from a vendor on a Moscow street.

Police An essential addition to the uniform.

Scouting achievements I was in the scouts, but I didn’t earn anything like this number of merit badges.

I.D. The modern tag is very different from these twentieth-century analog predecessors.

Playing games Children like to be the sheriff etc.

VisCom Our School of Visual Communication (at Ohio University) has a simple “V” badge that we like to wear. There’s also a more detailed enamel version that is given to graduating students.

Photograph by Kate Stone (while a VisCom student):



This small book (with a lot of pages) gives an overview of classic graphic design. The reproductions are small (obviously), so it’s best to look for a larger version to really appreciate any particular example. Here’s a sample of the 500 pieces that the book contains.

Woolmark logo,1964 Franco Grignani

The Gutenberg Bible, c.1453-1455 Johannes Gutenberg

Metropolitan World Atlas, 2005 Joost Grooten

The Man of Letters, or Pierrot’s Alphabet, 1794 Unknown

Vertigo poster, 1958 Saul Bass

Shell logo, 1971 Raymond Loewy

Physikalischer, 1845/48 Heinrich Berghaus. Detail below. A high-res version:

Mexico Olympics identity 1968 Lance Wyman

London Underground logo, 1918 Edward Johnston. A post about the Underground Map is here:

Unknown Pleasures album cover, 1979 Peter Saville. A post about it is here:

The Elements of Euclid, 1847 Oliver Byrne

IBM logo, 1972 Paul Rand

Bauhaus Book, 1929 László Moholy-Nagy

Esso logo, 1933 Unknown