Posted April 21, 2013 by Dr. Henri Montandon in art

Envisioning Information [1]


From the site: Attention Radar [], designed by Mind Design, is a web app, specifically designed to be viewed on the iPad, that visualizes the changes in political agendas of the Netherlands over time.



William Blake was a writer, artist, designer and printer of his Prophetic Books. With the exception of marketing – convincing a few to buy the New – Blake was one of the last to undertake four of the five roles of information dissemination with consummate skill. The information he sowed was a highly symbolic system which had once been known to the educated elite throughout Europe and Asia.

During the time Blake lived and worked, another kind of information was gaining more public attention. It was a kind of information Blake despised, calling it Single vision and Newton’s sleep and its presentation in newspapers and pamphlets as columns of numbers and simple graphs must have been soporific indeed.

The role of graphic designer did not yet exist (the term was first coined by William Addison Dwiggins in 1922) but ingenious people began to search for ways to make information both simple to grasp and compelling. A famous early example of graphic design by Charles Joseph Minard vividly shows the fate of Napoleon’s army in the Moscow campaign of 1812 to 1813.

From Wikipedia: The graph displays several variables in a single two-dimensional image: the size of the army – providing a strong visual representation of human suffering, e.g. the sudden decrease of the army’s size at the crossing of the Berezina river on the retreat; the geographical co-ordinates, latitude and longitude, of the army as it moved; the direction that the army was traveling, both in advance and in retreat, showing where units split off and rejoined; the location of the army with respect to certain dates; and the weather temperature along the path of the retreat, in another strong visualisation of events (during the retreat “one of the worst winters in recent
memory set in”.

Minard’s example demonstrates that a large amount of information can be placed in a well designed graphic. Another famous example is Harry Beck’s 1931 Tube map of the London underground railway system. Beck clarified preexisting maps by doing away with information that was unnecessary for map users who were trying to find their way around London on the tube.

From Wikipedia: This diagram is an evolution of the original design conceived in 1931 by Harry Beck. As a schematic diagram it shows not necessarily the geographic but rather the relative positions of stations along the lines, stations’ connective relations with each other and fare zones.

information aesthetics is rich in examples of innovative design for presenting diverse information. It also recommends books, blogs and articles of interest to any one envisioning information.

[1] Edward Tufte  1990  ENVISIONING INFORMATION  Graphics Press

Dr. Henri Montandon