The History of Infographics

This piece sparked my interest in exploring the history of infographics. Excluding cave paintings, the history of infographics dates back to the 1600s:

In 1626 Christopher Scheiner published the Rosa Ursina sive Sol which used a variety of graphics to reveal his astronomical research on the sun. He used a series of images to explain the rotation of the sun over time (by tracking sunspots).

In 1786, William Playfair published the first data graphs in his book The Commercial and Political Atlas. The book is filled with statistical graphs, bar charts, line graphs, and histograms, that represent the economy of 18th century England.

Perhaps most famously, the English nurse Florence Nightingale, in 1857, used information graphics persuading Queen Victoria to improve conditions in military hospitals, principally the Coxcomb chart, a combination of stacked bar and pie charts, depicting the number and causes of deaths during each month of the Crimean War.

"Diagram of the causes of mortality in the army in the East," published by Florence Nightingale.

The piece in The Morning News profiles, among a few other selections, the French engineer Charles Joseph Minard, who devised a number of new and influential infographic techniques. Among the most famous of his charts from this period is the 1869 “Carte figurative des pertes successives en hommes de l’armée française dans la campagne de Russie 1812–1813 comparées à celle d’Hannibal durant la 2ème Guerre Punique.” The two diagrams, published together, show the size and attrition of the armies of Hannibal in his expedition across the Alps during the Punic wars and of Napoleon during his assault on Russia. The colored band in the diagrams indicates the army’s strength of numbers—in both charts, one millimeter in thickness represents ten thousand men. The chart of Napoleon’s march includes an indication of temperature as well.

Top: Hannibal in his expedition across the Alps during the Punic wars. Bottom: Napoleon's assault on Russia.

See this Wikipedia link for more.

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The Making and Design of Google Maps

Willem van Lencker is a user experience and visual designer at Google Maps. In this post, he shares a brief history of the design/creation process of Google Maps, a product that so many of us use daily.

Synthesizing all of this information in an approachable and aesthetically pleasing way carried obvious challenges. As the product grew and evolved, the map varied widely from one country to another, and the universal familiarity and usability that made Google Maps a success was being undermined by complexity and “feature creep.” To better understand which of these variances were useful, we audited the map styles, colors, and iconography of maps all over the world with the help of local users. We examined the leading online and offline mapping providers in each country, in addition to researching local physical signage and wayfinding. This undertaking provided us with a look at mapping as a local exercise—with cultural, ethnic, and region-specific quirks and nuances.

This is a good reminder of how people orient themselves in the West vs. East:

As Google Maps has broadened in scope, we have also had to address fundamental differences in tasks as basic as navigation and driving directions. We have found that, generally speaking, people navigate primarily by street names in Western countries and by landmarks and points of interest in the East. This is due to a combination of factors including a lack of road names (e.g. in India where locals rely on landmarks) or just a more complex street addressing system (e.g. in Japan where street numbers are assigned by date of construction, not sequentially)

Finally, it is smart of Google to use the local design elements in its maps. For example, see this image and what Google did about labeling the subway systems in different parts of the world:

As subways are often used by both tourists and locals, the local branding systems for subway stations worked best—helping guide users both on maps and as they navigate outside in the real world. Additionally, a custom body of regional road shields has been maintained, ensuring consistency and familiarity with real-world roadside markers.