Category: History

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




Teaching aid A 1965 model from Michael Stoll’s collection. Made by Somso Models of Sonneberg, Germany.

Eye test The Snellen chart (which originated in 1862) is the most common.

Poster Of course, there are plenty of detailed eye diagrams around. If you want one for the wall:

Phoropter Great-looking instrument for precise optical measurements. I don’t care what it does, I just like the dials.

Photograph by Christian Weibull.

Color vision The Ishihara test can detect red-green vision deficiencies. This is one of the 38 test plates.

Vintage Illustrations from historical medical books.

Above, from Die Frau als Hausärztin, 1911. Below, from Meyers Konversations-Lexicon, 1897. (Hein Nouwens/

Eye color There are endless variations. Brown is the most common color, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Photograph © Taiga/123rf

A chart of doll eyes.

Signage This kind of design was very common years ago.

Giant eye Tony Tasset created a 30-foot (9-meter) diameter fiberglass eyeball (modeled on his own eye) in 2007. It’s a well-traveled item. First on display in Chicago’s Pritzer Park, then on the roadside in Sparta, Wisconsin (where it was originally constructed), and now in the Joule Hotel’s sculpture garden in Dallas.

Photograph by Carol M.Highsmith.

Subways (1)


New York City Subway Map, 1972 by Massimo Vignelli.

This week’s posts follow on from a recent one about Harry Beck’s seminal Underground map:

New York design classics The Graphics Standards Manual (1970) designed by Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda set the design parameters for modern New York subway signage. A reprinted version, originally funded by a Kickstarter campaign, is available here: (along with a few other gems).

Two years later, the schematic map (shown at the top of this post) was introduced, and there was a lot of criticism. For London’s map, Harry Beck had chosen diagrammatic clarity over geographical accuracy, but a similar approach by Vignelli did not go down well with some of the inhabitants of NYC. After substantial changes (not overseen by its creator), the design was dropped in 1979. However, in 2012, the Metropolitan Transit Authority asked Vignelli to design a similar version for its Weekender app.

NYC today More geographically-correct, less of a design system. I don’t love it, but I understand why it’s the way it is.


The Tokyo trains can get very crowded. However, there are people who’s job is to push everyone in. Click on the image below to see the video.



Circular Max Roberts has redesigned several subway maps using a circular arrangement. Here are New York, London and Paris.

See more maps by Max Roberts here:

Map or diagram? This animation of the Berlin subway first appeared on Reddit, and inspired others to make geographical comparisons with the diagrams of various cities. Some examples below.

By vinnivinnivinni.

By playhouse_animation.

By ninja.

By hlake.

By sweedfishoreo.

Subway world A subway-style map of cities with urban transit systems.



Ergonomics “Humanscale” is a collection of three books and nine selectors with dials. They contain the detailed human measurements that designers need to create workspaces, furniture and products that are ergonomically sound. It was originally published in 1974 by Henry Dreyfuss Associates, and expanded the metrics of the original book, “The Measure of Man” (see “Origins” below). And now it’s being republished by IA Collaborative after a Kickstarter campaign:

Inside the 1/2/3 booklet.

Some examples of possible applications.

Selector details.

Origins Henry Dreyfuss set the standard for visual ergonomic explanation with his book “The Measure of Man: Human Factors in Design” published in 1959. It contains 32 charts and two life-size posters (shown as one image below) designed by Dreyfuss and illustrated by Alvin Tilley. The two figures (nicknamed “Joe” and “Josephine”) represent the average American man and woman.

Below, the first edition cover.

The book was updated in 1993, and the title made more inclusive.

*The title of a 1955 Dreyfuss book.



Once a week for several years (ending in 2010), Eric Baker had an inspiring column called “Today” that appeared on the DesignObserver site. It was a set of carefully selected historical design images. Sometimes on a theme, sometimes not. Anyway, I really looked forward to seeing the latest treasure trove of imagery. So in the spirit of looking back for inspiration to our illustrious past, here’s a selection of 50 examples from those posts. Many of these are infographically-inclined, but that (of course) is because of the person selecting them.