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Graphics 2 information graphics 2 introduction earliest information graphics first attempts to systemise the presentation of information using graphics; Playfair, Minard presenting quantitive information with graphic displays; Tufte complex communication; pictograms in medicine

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  • earliest information graphics
  • first attempts to systemise the presentation of information using graphics; Playfair, Minard
  • presenting quantitive information with graphic displays; Tufte
  • complex communication; pictograms in medicine
  • conclusion; influence on graphic design
  • examples of contemporary information graphics
Lascaux caves; earliest maps found show the night sky 16,000 BC

Çatalhöyük drawing may be a plan of the village 7,000 BC

Hecataeus of Miletus earliest surviving ‘map of the world’ 450 BC

Claudius Ptolemy represented spherical shape of the earth with perspective map in his Geographia 100 AD

earliest information graphics - maps

Scottish engineer and economist;

regarded as the founder of graphical statistics

credited with inventing the line graph and bar chart in his ‘Commercial and Political Atlas’ published 1786

also credited with the pie chart, appearing in his work ‘Statistical Breviary’ published 1881

William Playfair

French civil engineer, pioneered the use of graphs;

represented statistical information using diagrams

used graphical techniques to explain engineering principles

1869 published statistical representation of Napolean’s Russian Campaign 1812

shows the position and direction of forces

shows where forces split and where they joined

shows declining numbers and where major losses occurred

shows the temperatures at key points

developed what has come to be known as a ‘flow map’

described by Edward Tufte as ‘the best statistical graphic ever drawn’ (Tufte, 1983)

Charles Joseph Minard


US statistician, Emeritus Professor at Yale

taught political economy and data analysis at Princeton, 1968

developed a course on statistics and prepared seminars on statistical graphics, working with John Tukey (pioneer in information graphics)

1982 mortgaged his home and financed his book ‘The Visual Display of Quantitative Information’

Edward Tufte

coined the term ‘chartjunk’ for information graphics;

any part of the graphic that does not provide useful information

anything that distracts the viewer from the information that is important

chartjunk undermines the purpose of the display

the display should be used to provide information

elements in the display that do not provide information compete for the viewers attention with elements that do

the appearance of the display should never take precedence over its function

gradient shading, heavy lines, colours, elaborate text, backgrounds, etc

a good graphic is one that minimises ‘non-data-ink or redundant data-ink’ (Tufte, 1983)

Edward Tufte - ‘chartjunk’

Tufte advocates data rich displays that contain as much information as possible (eg Minard’s Russian Campaign chart);

provide a single source for a variety of related information

offer the user the opportunity to spot correlations and trends that might not otherwise be apparent

the ‘sparkline’ was proposed by Tufte as an alternative to a full graphic representation set aside from the main text

"data-intense, design-simple, word-sized graphics“ (Tufte, 2006)

designed to be memorable and nearly as easily understood as the words in the sentence

below is an extract from wikipedia illustrating the use of a sparkline;

Edward Tufte - ‘Sparkline’

highly critical of Powerpoint and its successors;

‘The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint’ – the affect of using Powepoint’s built in styles, templates and wizards

‘PowerPoint Does Rocket Science’ – analysis of the slides used by Boeing to explain to NASA management the risk to Columbia

main criticisms relate to the way Powerpoint discourages effective presentations;

too many levels, eg each of the NASA slides contained four to six levels of hierarchy!

default layouts lead presenters to work around images, rather than place them where they are needed

charts and graphs are simplistic and lack resolution – misleading

aimed at the presenter rather than the audience – 35mm and overhead projectors provided information, not autocue

Edward Tufte - presentations

road signs

Italian Touring Club 1895

International Road Congress, Rome 1908

UK Road Traffic Act 1930

Anderson Committee 1957

Neurath and Isotype

airport signs

Association of German Airports 1968, Kapitzki


Esso 1975, Institute for Environmental Design; Speikerman


the Pioneer plaque is designed to communicate without language to extraterrestrial life…

a few other important developments

top left provides a representation of hydrogen atoms

most abundant element in the universe

used to derive a measurement of length (21cm) and time

highly iconic representation of human male and female

binary equivalent of decimal 8 (1000) provides height of figure

(8 x 21 = 168cm)

the relative position to the sun of 14 pulsars is shown

dotted lines provide pulse frequencies in units derived from hydrogen atom behaviour

a map of the solar system is included, and shows the trajectory of the probe

an outline of the probe is shown to scale behind the figures

Pioneer 10 and 11 plaques

the work of Kapitzki, Neurath, Tufte and others suggest principles that might guide pictogram design;

don’t add more to the display than is necessary for meaning

meaning comes from differences – don’t add differences unless you want to add meaning

hierarchies are easily perceived

information that is low in the hierarchy is prescribed less importance

how have these principles been applied?

pictograms for complex instructions – medicine

going to extremes – pictograms that are language

information graphics and pictograms


pictograms for complex instructions - medicines

physical or pathological states are represented;

colour indicates moment the state occurs

shape indicates physical (circle) or pathological (square)

pictogram represents area of enquiry

combination of primitive graphic elements conveys concepts and procedures

pictograms for complex instructions - medicines

an attempt to construct a written language with pictograms

available as ‘opentype’ fonts to download

‘everything possible with alphabetic characters is possible also with these icon-fonts’

pictorial language – Jochen Gros

information graphics was pioneered in areas where quantifying and visualising information were important, eg Tufte

graphic designers have drawn on the principles used in diagrams, cartograms and iconograms

conveying ‘everyday information’ graphically

using semiotic principles to optimise design (something that’s different and can be substituted, something that’s the same and can be compared)

The most successful information graphics designers have changed the way we provide information; Herbert Kapitzki, Otl Aicher, Eric Speikermann

In doing so they have had a tremendous influence on all areas of graphic design;

the move away from art and towards uniformity

pursuing excellence in simplicity, allowing minimal representations to convey maximum information


Innovative interactive information graphic on movie box office revenue, NYT;

A list of clever information graphics to browse through




  • Tufte, Edward R (1983) The visual display of quantitative information, Graphics Press.
  • ‘The Work of Edward Tufte and Graphics Press’, [online] Available from: (Accessed 10 March 2009).
  • Baldwin, Jonathan and Roberts, Lucienne (2006) Visual Communication: From Theory to Practice, AVA Publishing.  
  • Lamy, Jean-Baptiste, Duclos, Catherine, Bar-Hen, Avner, Ouvrard, Patrick and Venot, Alain:An iconic language for the graphical representation of medical concepts, [online] Available from: (Accessed 17 March 2009).
  • Tufte, Edward R. (1990) Envisioning Information, Graphics Press USA.  519.530222 TUF/X
  • Abdullah, Rayan and Habner, Roger (2006) Pictograms, Icons & Signs: A Guide to Information Graphics, illustrated edition. Thames & Hudson.