Category: Infographics

The incredible Bollmann map workshop (Part 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 Each map takes a maximum of one year to produce (or it would be out-of-date by the time it is printed), and thousands of aerial and street-level photographs are used as references.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.)


GREG MAXSON’S EXPLANATORY GRAPHICS.When I was the consulting graphics director for Popular Science back in the 1990s, I commissioned Greg to produce many diagrams. Like me, he began in the world of analog graphics, working with technical draughtsman tools, and by the 90s was, of course, working on the computer. Here are some examples of his precise, clear style. These instructional graphics help us with our day-to-day life, and deserve as much respect as the mega-graphics that frequently sweep up the prizes. See more of Greg’s work here:

An example below of one of Greg’s pre-computer graphics. This style was perfect for the transition to computer-based illustration.

The examples below are all digital.

Greg has drawn hundreds of buildings for VanDam’s excellent series of maps. Some examples:

Stephan Van Dam was approached by the National Gallery of Art to create a map (for the 75th anniversary of the museum), and to build a miniature version of the East Wing as a display case. Stephan and his team collaborated with Greg on the project.

The SketchUp model, and a Shaderlight rendering for the map.

The team studied the East Wing, and determined the best way to reflect the architecture in a lucite case that would hold the maps. Using SketchUp, Greg created a 3D model of the shell. Then the dividers and pockets were designed.

Making the complex case, with it’s sharp 18-degree corners was a real challenge. Stephan wasn’t able to find a model manufacturer in the U.S., but eventually a Shanghai-based shop agreed to construct it.

See the range of VanDam maps, and buy them, here:

(All map, building & display images ©VanDamMedia. All rights reserved.)

Malofiej 25


Next week, I’ll be in Pamplona, Spain for the Malofiej conference and workshop (M25). It’s not too late to sign up for this essential infographics and data visualization event. I’m co-hosting the “Show Don’t Tell” workshop with two super-talented and influential infographics people: Fernando Baptista from National Geographic magazine, and Xaquín González, who until very recently led the Guardian Visuals team.


There is no other event in the world that is entirely focused on all forms of explanatory graphics. From the workshop, to the conference, to the awards (which are judged by an impressive roster of international professionals). Then there’s the friendliness and openness of the whole thing. Ask anyone who has been there. It’s a place to learn new things, and to become part of the infographic community. Yes, I am very biased (having been there 22 times), but I highly recommend it.

See the program:

Register for the workshop or conference (or preferably both) using the form here:

I think of Malofiej as the United Nations of Infographics. People from all over the world seem to get on just fine. An encouraging lesson in these difficult times.

Malofiej 1

Out of interest, I’ve been looking at 1993, which was the year of Malofiej 1. The internet existed, but there was only the visually-limited (although leading edge at the time) Mosaic browser, which later became Netscape.

Consequently, Malofiej 1 was entirely about print infographics. Illustrator 5.0 came out that year, and finally we had layers and a preview mode. Photoshop 2.5, however, did not have layers, or multiple undos. The Mac operating system was System 7.

Desktop: Quadra 700 with 8 MB (!) of RAM.

Portable: PowerBook 180c. 4-bit grayscale screen, 80MB hard drive. With a trackball.

And… I have to say that M25, for anyone British (like me), brings to mind the 117-mile (188 km) motorway that surrounds London. It’s one of the busiest roads in the U.K.


Parenting advice


This tongue-in-cheek baby owner‘s manual has a helpful spinner on the cover to determine which parent has the responsibility to look after the baby. Seems fair to me.
Some sample pages are shown below.

On Amazon:

Dave and Kelly Sopp’s online store, Wry Baby (, has some fun baby clothes, and other items.

(All images: © Wry Baby)

Unmanned and overhead


Everyone seems to be buying a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and recording bird’s-eye views of their house, or their town, or something else. Recently, I was at a presentation by Ruben Pater during the IC17 conference in the Netherlands, and he showed this “Drone Survival Guide” from 2013. It can be purchased on a reflective paper that apparently is useful for hiding from drones.
For a more detailed look at the graphic visit:

He also made a 12-inch vinyl record (with composer Gonçalo F. Cardoso) which contains the sounds of various drones.

James Bridle draws actual size outlines of drones in public places to raise awareness of these rarely-seen machines. He also has added drone shadows to Google Maps. (

(Photograph: James Bridle)

Ruben’s project brought back memories of this (rather confused) graphic that I made for Popular Science a mere 21 years ago, when military drones were relatively new on the scene.

A Washington Post graphic, from 2013, explains Amazon’s plans back then to deliver our packages directly to us with drones.

Amazon is currently testing drone delivery in the U.K. (

Here’s what we probably all want as a birthday present: the DJI Phantom 4. (From the user manual.) The basic kit is as low as $1,200.

Good magazine and Column Five found some drone poll results (2012).

And then there’s fantastic drone photography, like this example by Amos Chapple, who gave a presentation at the Schuneman Symposium, here at Ohio University, last year.


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:

The dawn of digital


A guest post by a digital news graphics pioneer, Karl Gude, who is now a professor in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University. Karl is Director of the Media Sandbox.

(Above: State-of-the-art in 1985, the Apple Lisa. It cost $24,000 in today’s money.)

Apple to the rescue

Grrrr… As a news artist working in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I hated plotting graphs by hand, like the ones below, (my boss wanted me to make charts like “Nigel Holmes in Time!”), and I made a lot of them. My fingers were black with ink and nicked by X-Acto blades. But by the mid ‘80s, there was a bright light on the horizon: Apple was making computers that could plot a graph with the click of a mouse.

United Press International in the 1980s. All news graphics were drawn by hand.

Life with Lisa

In 1985, I was working for the news agency, UPI, in Washington, D.C., which sold infographics to newspaper clients. We purchased two Apple Lisa computers which could generate simple maps and charts. Apple flew executives out to help us set them up, including Apple iconographer and designer Susan Kare ( Her icons for the operating system are shown below. Apple was excited that the news industry was interested in their products, and if UPI used their equipment, our 1,600 newspaper and TV clients would also have to use it to edit our graphics, if only to delete the byline!

Back to analog

I moved to the New York Daily News as their News Graphics Director in 1986. Unfortunately, it was back to the drafting table, and the old ways of doing things, but not for long. The editor was against spending money on graphics technology, but he agreed to allow me to rent one Apple Macintosh, or Mac (a bit better than the Lisa for graphics), to create infographics for a special series we were doing on transit in New York. The Mac was a crowd-pleaser, and when the editor saw what it could do he allowed me to purchase six of them. Out went the art tables, and in came the complaints. Most of the staff didn’t like this new way of making graphics and drawing, but before I could see how it all turned out, I moved to the Associated Press.

The Associated Press goes digital

Again, drawing tables! But, AP was already considering Macs, and the transition from drawing tables to computers happened quickly. I felt sad though, at the sight of about 12 battle weary, ink-stained and cut up drawing tables lining a long hallway waiting to be shipped to a warehouse. They were replaced with flat desks with Macs sitting atop 20-megabyte (!) hard drives.

One of my early Mac graphics drawn in Claris MacDraw 1.9.6, March 1988.

AP leads the way. (Editor’s note: Notice that Karl is “master of the Macintosh”. You can’t beat that.)

The first portable Mac

If you were to shrink every tool on a cluttered drawing table and cram them into a tiny little box, you would have the Macintosh Plus.  Because the computer was so light and portable, Apple designed a backpack so that it could be easily taken places, which was a dream for me back in 1987. As a news artist, it was hard to visit the scene of a breaking news event and cover it live in the same way a photographer could with a camera. The best I could do was to go there and make sketches (visual notes) to use as reference for a drawing that I would complete back at the office.

The traveling computer. Just a little larger than an iPad! Karl holding the bag a few days ago.

Before Apple’s swanky backpack existed, I used a cardboard box. There was a terrible accident where a building under construction collapsed killing a number of workmen in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which was about 35 miles from the AP offices in New York, As was the usual drill, I found myself explaining to a photographer, who was rushing to the scene, which photos I needed him to take for me as possible reference for a diagram. It was then I realized that I could go with him! No longer tied down to a drawing table, I threw my Macintosh into a cardboard box, and hopped in the car with him. The Connecticut Post was nice enough to give me a desk to work on (thanks Rick Sayers!), and my Mac was the first one they had seen in action. The diagram I made that night, explaining the process workers were using to build the doomed building (called “lift-slab construction”), was transmitted over a phone modem directly from the Post to AP in New York, who then routed it to hundreds of newspapers and TV stations around the country. Hours were saved in the making of the graphic, which made our subscribers very happy.

Drawing programs: vector or postscript?

In the early days, before scanners came along, drawing on Macs was heavy going. We used the vector-based MacDraw program, which was easy, cheap, and already in every newsroom. Because we were a news agency that supplied graphics to 2,000+ frugal news organizations, we had to stick with MacDraw much longer than we had wanted.

We would sketch out our drawings on paper, and in order to get them into the Mac to finalize them, we followed this process:

  1. Size the drawing (or photo reference) on a copy machine to about the size of the tiny Mac screen.
  2. Trace the drawing (or photo reference) with a marker pen onto clear acetate.
  3. Tape the acetate to the Mac over the screen.
  4. Trace the image with the mouse (much like drawing with a bar of soap) by clicking around the acetate drawing without moving your head (otherwise, your drawing would be distorted).

The equipment in this illustration was drawn directly in the Mac SE using MacDraw II, but the people, which my wife posed for, were drawn using the method detailed above.

Covering elections with the Mac meant sending graphics directly to papers through Mac-to-Mac- dial-up instead of over a slow, bogged down photo network. Here I am in D.C. with AP’s Brian Horton to cover the 1988 elections.

1989 MacDraw graphic, one of my last with that software.

Superior postscript drawing programs like Adobe Illustrator and Aldus Freehand had come out, but for the Associated Press to switch to one of those meant getting all of our news members to purchase and learn it, and most of the smaller papers resisted this expense of time and money. Also, postscript programs couldn’t read vector images, so entire databases of maps and images would be useless. Eventually, though, we had to make the move. We asked both Adobe and Aldus if they could build into their next version the ability to open and edit vector-based images. Adobe said, “That’s against our religion. No.” But Aldus said, “How soon do you need it?” So, we announced to the newspaper world that AP would be switching to Freehand, and that we could get if for them at a discount. I heard that the Adobe guy who made the “religion” comment was fired for lack of vision.

Sketching out a plane crash graphic before drawing it in the Mac. We built lots of aircraft models for reference.

Still, despite all of the awkward limitations, drawing on the Mac still was better than drawing with an ink pen, and pasting a layout with melted wax onto boards before having them photographed and printed. The Mac allowed you to edit your lines and fills, change text easily, move elements around into different layouts, and create databases of elements, like maps, that you could reuse another time. It was heaven.

An early Aldus Freehand drawing, 1989. The thick 3D boxes were a bit much. Hey, so were shoulder pads in jackets!

By the early 90s, the Mac and Postscript software, predominantly Adobe Illustrator, had stuck and both were here to stay.



I didn’t make this ocean liner comparison as a free-standing graphic. It was part of a big, and much too complicated, display about the Queen Mary 2 (shown lower down this post). I’m now thinking that this historical timeline captured the main point of the feature. (The ships are drawn to the same scale.) It was interesting to know where the QM2 was sailing on it’s maiden voyage, and the globe addresses that aspect. (It ran on another page of the feature.) These two small graphics would probably have been enough, but I was a graphics director, and I wanted to make a statement.

So… I wonder how many times I’ve made infographics that are more dense than they need to be? I collected a lot of information for the graphic below, but I didn’t have to use it. The lower section of the spread looks like it might be from a cruise brochure. And apart from the overcrowding, an elevation view doesn’t give enough of an idea about the interior spaces of the ship. That’s obviously why this type of rendering is usually a three-quarter view. (Which is a hell of a lot harder to create!)

This travel graphic is another example of too much information. I meant well, but I was carried away by the enthusiasm of wanting to show everything. I worry that presentations like this might alienate readers, to whom it could seem like too much hard work.