A Trio of Visual Catalogs Celebrates the Innovative Figures Who Pioneered Modern Information Graphics
A new book set honors the lives and legacies of three figures who fundamentally altered the way we communicate and organize data still today. Information Graphic Visionaries is a catalog trio dedicated to educator and entrepreneur Emma Willard, statistician and founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale, and scientist Étienne-Jules Marey, who all brought insight and clarity to the modern world by conveying complex information in visually compelling and convincing manners. Edited by RJ Andrews of Info We Trust with art direction by Lorenzo Fanton, the series unveils these previously overlooked histories through newly discovered graphics and prominent works paired with contextual essays and annotations.
Through a combination of atlases, wall hangings, and textbook woodcut graphics, Emma Willard: Maps of History explores how Willard invented new conceptions of time and ultimately defined chronology in the United States. Florence Nightingale: Mortality & Health Diagrams contains the nurses’ persuasive designs that ultimately sparked vital reforms to the English health care system. And the Étienne-Jules Marey volume is the first English translation of the French scientist’s seminal text on data visualization, The Graphic Method, La Méthode Graphique, which was first published in 1885.
After launching May 11, Information Graphic Visionaries is already nearing its goal on Kickstarter, but you still have time to back the project.
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By day, Scott Reinhard designs graphics for The New York Times. Recently, he created a United States map detailing where city-dwellers fled during the pandemic and another showing how the Pantanal wetland in Brazil has transformed into a massive inferno. Incorporating an ever-growing swath of data, his daily tasks are connected to the fluctuations of news cycles.
But in his off-hours, the Brooklyn-based designer takes a broader look at the state of the nation. He merges vintage maps and contemporary elevation data, creating stunning digital works that flatten the differences of time and space into hybrid objects. While his graphics for The Times are rooted in the ever-changing present, his personal work is nestled within historical contexts.
Reinhard’s interest in data and map-generation grew while he was pursuing a master’s degree in graphic design at North Carolina State University, particularly during an introductory course centered around geographic information systems. “I basically became aware of all these cartography tools that I had no idea about. Because I wasn’t coming from that background, I was free to play around… and approach visualizing geographic data in new and interesting ways,” he says.
That experimental period spurred Reinhard’s ideas of fusing historical maps and contemporary land elevations, and he began exploring filtering, a cartographic method that calculates a theoretical sun and provides data about corresponding landscapes. “It’s pretty crude, but it really fascinated me that from a flat, black-and-white image, which is basically what elevation data looks like, you could interpolate this scene,” he shares, noting that he began to work with 3-D renderings around the same time. “That data that’s stored in a paper map can still be activated.”
Since 2019, Reinhard has refined his focus and shifted to larger series. “I’m still interested in these USGS (United States Geological Survey) maps as graphic objects and as really beautiful works of graphic design. What I’ve really been enjoying is to build these out,” he says. The more comprehensive collections have included studies of Alaskan maps from the 1950s, one series focused on the Oregon coast, and another considering south-central Indiana where he was raised.
A macro-view captures the intricacies and histories etched into the landscape of a region, showcasing glacial formations, seismic activity, and how a mountain range emerged during a period of years. “I realized once I started visualizing the landscape that, on a day-to-day standpoint when you look around you, you see elevation changes, but you don’t really see patterns. We’re just a little too small,” he says. Because USGS maps utilize coordinates, they also circumvent more political orientations found in documents outlining territories or other cordoned-off areas, offering an opportunity to correct false narratives that have been perpetuated by cartographic objects in the past. The historical maps hold additional information on trends and periods in design, which manifest in aesthetic choices like style and color.
Reinhard currently is working his way through producing a collection of USGS-recommended maps from the 1950s, a novel project that’s rooted in exploration and curiosity. “All maps are exaggerations, to some extent,” he says. “You can push and pull what the map says and what the map tells you.” Explore Reinhard’s extensive collection of digital works on Instagram and his site, where he also sells an array of prints.
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A visual insights designer at Nike by day, Gladys Orteza spends her off-hours transforming otherwise dull stock market charts into brilliant landscapes. The dips and rises of companies like Ford, Tesla, Apple, and Disney become rocky gorges and distant city skylines. Prompted by trading practices pre-pandemic, Orteza began to envision buildings and natural features when diving into Robinhood. “I remember sitting on the couch looking at one of my stock charts and nonchalantly saying to my husband that these charts look really pretty and that I should recreate them as mountains on a landscape,” she says. These visualizations soon manifested into vivid, nature-based depictions.
The Hillsboro, Oregon-based artist, who’s been sharing her landscapes on Instagram, tells Colossal that much of her inspiration comes from living in the Pacific Northwest. “One day we were driving through farmland during a sunset, and the colors of the sky was so breathtaking I had to start drawing. I then got inspired by a few old trucks that were parked on people’s properties,” she says. That experience resulted in the pastel landscape created utilizing Ford’s chart (shown below) that has a vintage vehicle driving through the foreground.
Orteza also contradicts any notion that stocks and data are impersonal by adding important pieces of herself into each artwork. The moon radiating in the background of every piece represents her daughter named Lyanna Luna, and if you look closely at the nearby bird, you’ll see the creature actually is comprised of the artist’s signature.
To be clear, Orteza doesn’t expect her mountainous scenes or starry nights to influence trading decisions. “It’s not intended to help the viewer make any business decisions or give any technical analysis. It’s visual storytelling. It’s art,” she says. (via Kottke)
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In an effort to make the ongoing effects of climate change more visible, needleworkers around the globe are creating temperature blankets and scarves that track local weather patterns. Earlier this month, writer Josie George began an expansive Twitter thread about the project, motivating others to share their similar work. “I decided that this year, every day, I would knit a row on a scarf to mark the corresponding daily temperature/weather of my town,” George wrote in the original post. “It felt like a good way to engage with the changing climate and with the changing year. A way to notice and not look away.”
Although the technique and materials vary, each project follows a basic pattern utilizing a key (like this free one) to track some combination of the temperature, sky conditions, season, and date. The personal projects are part of a larger movement to document micro weather changes that may serve as indicators of broader climate issues. Groups like The Tempestry Project have been crafting wallhangings tracking the daily high temperature of a specific location during the course of year, weaving the results into a yarn-based work resembling a bar graph. Check out this Instagram tag to see more of the activism-inspired projects. (via My Modern Met)
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Seung Lee tracked the first year of his baby’s sleep schedule with the BabyConnect app, which lets you export data to CSV. Choosing to work with six minute intervals, Lee then converted the CSVs into JSON (using Google Apps Script and Python) which created a reliable pattern for knitting. The frenetic lines at the top of the blanket indicate the baby’s unpredictable sleep schedule right after birth. We can see how the child grew into a more reliable schedule as the lines reach more columnar patterns.
As Lee neared completion of the blanket, he shared, “All the disparate pieces felt really fragile but as I seamed it together, wove in loose ends, and removed stitch markers, it felt more and more sturdy. Something that I’d been handling like a delicate bird egg started to just feel like a blanket.” The Seattle-based comic artist, crafter, and coder shares updates via Twitter and his website. (thnx, Jennifer!)
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Media artist Refik Anadol’s work Melting Memories combines data paintings, light projections, and augmented data sculptures to visibly demonstrate how the brain recalls memories. The installation was created with a custom 16 x 20 foot LED media wall and CNC milled rigid foam, and was shown earlier in 2018 at Pilevneli Gallery in Istanbul. In the work, seething swirls move across the work’s surface, resembling cresting ocean waves, blossoming flowers, and shifting sand.
To generate the data, Anadol conducted experiments at the Neuroscape Laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco. An artist statement describes the technical process: “Anadol gathers data on the neural mechanisms of cognitive control from an EEG (electroencephalogram) that measures changes in brain wave activity and provides evidence of how the brain functions over time. These data sets constitute the building blocks for the unique algorithms that the artist needs for the multi-dimensional visual structures on display.”
Anadol is a media artist and director who specializes in site-specific public art that explores the intersection of physical and digital reality. Born in Istanbul, the artist is now based in Los Angeles, where he is a visiting researcher and lecturer at UCLA’s Department of Design Media Arts. You can see more of his work on his website, as well as on Instagram, Vimeo, and Behance.
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Editor's Picks: History
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.