Category: Infographics

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)

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.

Visual Conceit


We’re very fortunate that our Knight Fellow for this academic year is Adonis Durado, who’s design and infographics work at the Times of Oman, and several other publications, is widely admired. He currently has a terrific exhibition in our gallery called “Visual Conceit.” Here’s some examples from the show, along with his comments. The selection here has an infographic bias that does not reflect the balance of the show, and of course that’s because it’s on this particular blog.

Adonis is talking about his work on Wednesday in our auditorium (poster shown above). This is a terrific opportunity for our students to learn from a world-class designer.


Mega-debt “My conceit here is to use the bars in the chart as body text columns, giving the page an organic or architectonic quality. It’s possible to read the article and the graphic at the same time. This is arguably the biggest bar chart ever published in a newspaper.”

Boxing matchup “This preview presents, at actual scale, the height difference between the two boxers, which is shown as a white strip that runs across the spread. Height difference matters because a taller boxer has longer limbs, giving him a reach advantage.”

Olympic records “An infographic about the record-breaking history of the Olympic long jump and high jump. To add fun and interactivity, I invited readers to cut up the page and transform it into a measuring tape, then see for themselves if they can jump like a pro.” (Click on the image to see a detail.)

World Cup insights “A series of infographics that were published in the back of our World Cup supplement. In this section, called “Parting Shot,” we tried visualizing content that is considered non-serious or off-beat.”

The Oscars “A series of infographics published daily leading up to the Academy Awards ceremony. I employed a variety of conceits for each category page. For example, in “The Best Picture,” I asked myself: Would it be possible to make the graph’s color legend the most dominant element of a page? The legend is a discreet element in all graphics, but not in this case.”

Soccer discipline “Another World Cup graphic. I began the design by considering if it’s possible to visualize a dataset that can occupy the entire issue of the magazine. These are all the red card and yellow cards issued during the tournament.”

The first spread (rotated).


Danish banking “This page started with the conceit of “type attack,” where the headline serves as the dominant element of a page (or the text becomes art in itself). I ended up deconstructing the body text as well, and came up with a treatment that mimics the concept of intertextuality. Notice that the lead paragraph contains keywords that link to pieces of related information.”

Gallery space “My solution to a challenge that I set myself: Is it possible to design a page where the white space is an illustration in itself, and is an element that will help visualize a story?”

India by train “Perhaps here I was just too tired of the regular Q&A format. This playful treatment defies convention, and I even let the headline and the intro merge into each other.”

The poster for the gallery show.


Fernando Baptista in Ohio


Last week, Fernando Baptista visited Ohio University. He gave a presentation to a packed auditorium, and the following day he began a two-day workshop for twenty students from the School of Art + Design and the School of Visual Communication. The group used the same methods that Fernando uses to make his superb illustrations for National Geographic magazine. Undergraduates and graduates worked together in a studio that is used for art and design classes. Countries (apart from the U.S.) that were represented: China, India, Iran, the Philippines and Spain.
Photograph above by Kisha Ravi (a VisCom photojournalism student).

Day One The reference material. Students chose one of four subjects: mammoth, sperm whale, dodo or triceratops.

The equipment. Notice the figure from an animation about Trajan’s Column, who happens to be on the table. See the video here:

Fernando explains his process. Like all great professionals, he’s keen to share the lessons he’s learned during his career.

The first stage was to rough out ideas for an infographic. One student’s plans for a sperm whale graphic.

A wire armature was made to closely match the skeleton of the animal. In this case, a triceratops.

Aluminum foil was used to fill out the form (here, a dodo) before layers of Super Sculpey, a polymer modeling clay, were applied.

Adonis Durado, who was making a video of the workshop, modeling an impromptu portrait of Fernando.

At the end of the first day, the creatures were really starting to take shape. I don’t often see a table of dodos on the campus.

Day Two Refining the models. Adding the fine detail needed some serious concentration.

Small parts, like teeth and horns, were placed into a toaster oven to make them firmer, and easier to apply to the sculpture. The complete model would be hardened later this way.

Fernando showing how to use natural light to bring form and effect to a sculpture.

Photograph by Kisha Ravi.

A painted background, and some crumpled paper that will later become a rocky area in Photoshop.

Fernando tells us how a stop-motion animation of a whale can be created with simple paper shapes.

Students watch the master using his painting technique. There wasn’t enough time to paint the models, but color will be applied, either manually or in Photoshop, after the workshop. Several students told me that they intend to carry on with the projects, and develop them for their portfolios.

Photograph by Kisha Ravi.

Starting to build a computer version of an infographic.

The workshop was a huge success. In no small part because Fernando put enormous effort into working with each student to help them move forward. It was tiring for me just to watch him assisting all those students for hour after hour. Thank you, Fernando!

Photograph by Kisha Ravi.

My overall impression: This is one of the best creative experiences we’ve ever offered our students. Fernando is a craftsman with a passion for information and explanation. And one of the nicest people in our entire field.

The School of Visual Communication:
The School of Art + Design:

VisCom on Instagram:
Kisha Ravi on Instagram:



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:




Space master Felice Varini creates geometric images, in public spaces, that defy our visual logic. His team uses a projector and stencils to painstakingly put each distorted component in the correct place. When viewed from a precise position, it all locks together for a spectacular effect. This example was installed on the Grand Palais in Paris.

The same squares
A and B are identical. It’s all a matter of contrast.

Old favorite We all know this kind of image. Two faces or a white vase?

Strangely transfixing.

Not motion
 This is a static image. Where’s the Dramamine?

Dinner table
Everything appears to be sinking into the dining table with this completely flat placemat.

Illustrations that bend reality 
Below, by Robert Gonsalves.

An example of the very popular work of M.C. Escher.

Chalk artists know how to manipulate perspective. By Edgar Mueller.



This post is the result of a conversation with Majo Carrasco, who is going to be a T.A. in my data visualization class next semester. She’s from Quito, Ecuador (which means Equator).

The Mitad Del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument, near Quito, sits on the dividing line between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Well, almost. The real position is about 250 yards (229 meters) away at the Intiñan Solar Museum. GPS has provided a more accurate location than the one that was fixed by a French expedition in 1736. The Prime Meridian in Greenwich is also not in the right spot. It’s really 111 yards (102 meters) away from it’s marked location. Below, at the more accurate site. Photograph by C.T.Johansson.

Some differences between the hemispheres:

I thought that the rotation principal also applies to water draining from a sink, but there seems to be considerable disagreement on this assertion:

Night sky The Southern Cross cannot be seen from most of the Northern Hemisphere, and Polaris, the North Star, cannot be seen from almost all of the Southern Hemisphere. But from the Equator, both are visible.
Below, the Milky Way from the Southern Hemisphere (La Silla Observatory in Chile).

Photograph by ESO/H.Dahle.

D.C. data viz


Six lessons from the experts A few weeks ago, I was in Washington with ten Scripps College of Communication students who are the pioneers of our “Semester in D.C.” program. We visited several top data visualization (and infographic) departments, who were very generous with their time. There were some common (and often encouraging) themes.

The points below are not great relevations to the people who read this blog, but perhaps it’s a good thing for us all to stop and reflect on the way forward for our field. They are skewed somewhat towards news outlets, as those were mainly the places we visited.

1. Mobile first Everyone is seeing their audience steadily migrating to mobile, so that has become a big factor in data design. Simpler, often static, displays with limited interactivity are common. Many of them are controlled by scrolling.

2. Limited interactivity On all platforms, if a tap or click is required it has to deliver something that feels worth it. Obviously, mobile (with it’s limited screen size) can be challenging for this kind of interaction anyway.

3. Design for the intended user 
Crucial when making decisions about the level of complexity, and the type of presentation. Often, displays of data are not well-enough refined for their target audience. For example, Vox aims for general consumption, especially through social media, and takes a more edited and popular approach, while the Pew Research Center provides a more comprehensive (“Fact Tank”) view for people who need more information.

4. Basic chart types are often the most effective The more challenging types of chart forms should be used with caution. Make sure that they are the best way to display the information. Often they look exciting, but are not good in terms of clearly visualizing a particular dataset.

5. Transparency Let your readers download the data that you’ve used. They can then see for themselves if the visualization clearly reflects the dataset. Even chart it themselves with their own preferred software.

6. Sketch out ideas Every department used rough visuals, drawn with pencil and paper (or it’s digital equivalent) to initially explore data presentation ideas. Great news for veteran infographic people like me who are always advocating this (to the point of being really annoying).

(In the order that we visited them). The trends mentioned above are, of course, reflected in these examples.

The Urban Institute

The New York Times (We visited the Washington Bureau.)
The cost of Hurricane Harvey:
The UpShot:
A gallery of last year’s visual stories and graphics:

5W Infographics (Juan Velasco led a one-day workshop at the National Press Club.)

The Washington Post

Vox Calories in booze:
Map projections:

NPR Gun violence:

The Pew Research Center
How voters switched candidates:

National Geographic

Maze and labyrinth


Classic hedge maze The Longleat Maze in Wiltshire (England) has viewing bridges that give people an overview before they return to the pathways between tall hedges. Photograph by Niki Odolphie.

Definitions A maze has multiple entrances and exits, choices of direction, and dead-ends. A labyrinth has only one way in and one way out.

Garden labyrinth Below, the Edinburgh Labyrinth (Scotland) in George Square Gardens. Photograph by Di Williams.

World’s largest The Guinness Book of Records lists The Maze of Butterfly Lovers in Ningbo, China, as the largest permanent hedge maze, with a total path length of 8.38 km (5.2 miles). It opened in April this year. Designed by Adrian Fisher, it contains the shapes of two butterflies. Adrian has designed hundreds of mazes and puzzles (in various formats) all over the world. Image from Google Maps.

Labyrinth project
As a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the London Underground in 2013, Mark Wallinger created a unique enamel labyrinth for every one of the 270 stations. They’re a connection to the system’s history of classic graphic design, and reflect the idea of entering the labyrinth of walkways and tunnels that make up a journey.

Photograph by Jack Gordon.

All of them are photographed here:



The biohazard symbol was designed in 1966, by Charles Baldwin, an engineer at the Dow Chemical Company.

Below, a set of hazard warning pictograms.

GHS The Globally Harmonized System is a universal set of symbols from the United Nations.

Nuclear waste
How do we warn people of buried toxic waste without words? And stop them from digging it up. We don’t know if mankind, thousands of years in the future, will understand any radiation hazard symbols, or a written warning (in any current language). This clever visual solution, by Nick Shelton, was for a School of Visual Arts infographics project.

A detail.

Mosquito sign
 Maleria is a huge problem in some countries.

Flight ban
The items that you should not take to the airport. (From an American Airlines check-in page.)

Designed at the University of California in 1946. It symbolizes activity radiating out from an atom.

We know to proceed with caution if we see this.