Category: Infographics



The Picto watch (designed in 1984) takes timekeeping down to the minimum.

Softer Than Steel chair by Nendo for Desalto. Nendo’s simple and elegant work:

Chocolatexture by Nendo for MAISON&OBJET. Chocolates as representations of Japanese words for texture.

Symbols can say a lot with an economy of image. Like this classic atomic icon.

Swiss graphic design has an inherent simplicity:

Camera designed by Jonathan Ive and Marc Newson.

Album covers The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd, 1973.

Coexist, The xx, 2012.

Words of wisdom Some well used quotes, but they’re still worth revisiting:

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary, so that the necessary may speak.” Hans Hofmann

John Maeda’s book is a thought-provoking read:

Archaeological pictograms


Fabienne Kilchör designed the font, Diglu, to help communicate archaeological information to a target audience. The project is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

As a graduate student at Bern University, Fabienne began the development of the font as a research project for her Ph.D thesis. She approached the Archeology Department because she felt that data visualization is too often directed at scientific communication, and she wanted to contribute to humanities and cultural studies. Two other factors: Fabienne has a personal interest in archaeology, and archaeologists have plenty of data to work with.

After an initial discussion with a professor, she identified areas where information graphics could possibly make a difference. Then she started looking for new methods to visualize archaeological data.

Starting the process The first stage was to interview archaeologists and to analyze numerous reports and publications, looking for places where difficulties in communication could be improved with a visual tool. There were two weeks of field research in Turkey, working with archaeologists. (Photograph by Susanne Ruthishauser)

Back in Berne, Fabienne began making rough sketches from photographs and archeologists drawings, before moving to Illustrator to create the vector images. Using variable widths, she designed two or more different pictograms. After presenting the different variations to an archeologist (the end-user), one was chosen, and that design was refined further. An exhaustive criteria-grid helped to decide the ideal pictograms. Criteria like “recognition” or “degree of differentiation” were very important. The result of all this development was a pictorial font, Diglu, that could be used in reports, books, presentations, maps, charts and diagrams. It’s really a system of mini-infographics.

Reducing complexity, and creating a unified set of symbols, in terms of gray value and spacing, were key parts of the overall design.

Consistency across text characters and pictograms was a priority.

The font comes in a full range of weights.

Key point Fabienne not only used the principles of font design, but also the principles of information design. The Diglu font is a hybrid of both those worlds.

Diglu is intended to be a uniform visual language. Typography meets information, design meets science.

Use in text:

Use in diagrams:

The font will be available in June here:

Work by Emphase, the studio that Fabienne runs with Sébastien Fasel in Lausanne, Switzerland, can be seen here:

Science decoded


“For science infographics, I try to find a visual story that I can use to make the information more engaging. For example, I’ve used burning paper sculptures to talk about forest fires, or architectural drawings to talk about human spines. It’s important to make sure the visual wrapper doesn’t affect the information inside the infographic, but I think there’s a fairly wide range of styles that can fit that requirement.”

This is “Science for the People”. Superb visualizations that explain complex subjects clearly and concisely. See a lot more at Eleanor’s website:

Below, embryo development in the style of a furniture assembly guide. (Click on the image for a higher resolution version.)

The mechanics of breathing.

The motion here is not necessary for informational reasons but, in terms of engagement, it works superbly.

From a set of virus trading cards. Definitely not what we want to be exchanging.

Red blood cell disorders. The decorative style is inspired by hand-woven rugs and Rococo stucco work. (Click on the image for a higher resolution version.)

Eleanor made plants from paper for a set of six graphics about species that have adapted to fire-prone conditions. Two are shown here.


A Victorian steam-punk approach to baby heart development. (Click on the image for a higher resolution version.)

The spinal cord explained in an architectural style. (Click on the image for a higher resolution version.)

I’ve shown this graphic in two previous posts, but I’m showing it again. Just nine frames, and I love it!

Eleanor is studying for a PhD in Biology at the University of Washington.

Paper graphics


Petals by Charlene Lam.

“I currently live in Umeå, a city at latitude 63° 50′ N in northern Sweden. Our winter days are short and summer days are long. Using the lengths of daylight for the first of each month, I created a visualization with 12 “petals”. The outer loop of each petal represents the 24 hours in the day; the inner loop is the length of daylight, ranging from 4h 33m on January 1 to 20h 34m on July 1. The simple lines suggest the passing of time, as well as the promise of spring to come.”
This elegant graphic won a paper-based visualization competition.

Bert Simons makes portraits of people out of paper. After taking photographs, he uses 3D software to produce the printout that, when cut and folded, magically creates a faceted recreation of the person.

Hang your friends heads on the wall like hunting trophies!

The technique developed further.

Gretchen Nash has a suitcase of childhood letters and notes that she analyzed into categories (like swear words, nicknames and holidays), and then used paper to make infographics for a book, “Dear Gretchen”. It was her senior thesis project at CalArts.

For this Good 100 issue, a team led by guest art director Brian Rea, produced all the illustrations from cut paper.

The left over pieces made a fun spread.

Sketching infographics

Hand-drawn explanations by Adolfo Arranz.

Whale hunt Adolfo’s infographics are drawn on an iPad or a Wacom tablet, using either Corel Painter or Photoshop.

City of Anarchy “The idea came to me when I visited Kowloon Park, which is where the walled city once stood. The inspiration was a plaque in the park that has a silhouetted illustration showing a cross-section of the settlement. Good research was very important, and a great resource was a book, “City of Darkness” by Greg Girard and Ian Lambot. It’s full of photos of daily life inside this makeshift city that had up to 50,000 residents.

Click on the image below to see a higher resolution version.

A detail.

The viewpoint is inspired by a famous comic-book series by Francisco Ibanez, that appeared in Spain in the 1960s and 70s.

The process From rough notes, to sketch, to digital artwork.

Kitamura-irlo Made on the iPad Pro with the Procreate app. Click on the image to see an animation of the drawing stages. Please note: It takes a while to load!

Sketchbook Adolfo makes sketches everywhere he goes using markers, pencils, and rollerball pens. He paints them with watercolors. “Developing drawing skills, learning to compose on paper, learning to see”.

Adolfo is Deputy Head of Infographics and Illustration at the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

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:



Order applied to chaos is a main principle of information design. Todd McLellan is a master of the craft of careful positioning. His book “Things Come Apart” has many great examples. (

A blog for people who like to see things arranged in an ordered way.

This IKEA cookbook cleverly uses the same principle.

Ursus Wherli is a Swiss genius who wants to tidy up everything.



Famous paintings reduced to their essence for an advertising campaign by Ogilvy and Mather, Hong Kong. Might be best seen from the other side of the room.

Portrait of One Direction by Nathan Sawaya (from The New Yorker).

Plastic that is good enough to eat, by Fabrice Fouillet.

Pizza by Tary.

Time-lapse of building a Lego van:
r click on the image.

Most popular Lego characters, from Wired magazine.

And finally, the great Christoph Niemann, from his book, “I Lego N.Y”.


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.