Neomobile briefly looks back at the history behind infographics

“Complicating is easy, it is difficult to simplify”

[Bruno Munari]

“Without constantly scanning, scrutinizing and absorbing what goes on around you, you cannot become a successful designer”

[How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul]

Maybe it’s appropriate to say that the world of 2.0 is saturated with visual images and messages hoping grab anyone’s attention. The written word is losing its value, especially when addressed to an individual walking in a hurry along the city streets who has little time to devote to himself or those around him. All you have to do is take a look at Times Square in New York or Piccadilly Circus in London.

In order to communicate with a user, messages must be quick, clear, direct, simple, minimal, and especially eye catching. That’s where infographics come in, information simplified by combining text and images.

But let’s start from the beginning.

Apart from survival, one of man’s primal needs as a social being is a representation of the world around us. This allows us to share our thoughts with others about how we perceive everything around us. Immediately after using oral communication and before the use of cuneiform writing, we find the first examples of infographics: Cave Drawings. The hunting scenes depicted on the caves of Altamira in Spain, and the hieroglyphics on the walls of the Temple of Luxor in Egypt were just a preview to the future of infographics.

Here are some key moments in the history of infographics:

1700s. William Playfair, a Scottish engineer and economist invents a representation of statistical data through the use of line, bar, and pie charts. His major work, The Commercial and Political Atlas (1786), is one of the greatest examples of the use of statistical graphs. Statistical Breviary (1801) is instead the first document that contains a pie chart. Thanks, William, for having simplified many of our lives!

1800s. The Florence Nightingale, best known as the founder of modern nursing, is described as an innovator in graphical representation of statistical data. A Diagram illustrating the poor conditions of military hospitals during the Crimean War was colour coded: Red indicated the wounds of the soldiers, Blue represented preventable diseases, and Black referred to other causes of death. This was the first example of a polar area diagram (or coxcomb); very similar to a pie chart.

1869. Charles Joseph Minard, a French civil engineer, was a pioneer of infographics applied to engineering and statistics. His famous graph, Carte figurative des pertes successives en hommes de l’Armée Française dans la campagne de Russie 1812-1813, outlined the Russian Campaign of Napoleon. Using a flowchart he retraced the army’s advances from the borders of Russia to Moscow, illustrating the huge losses suffered by the army in both advances in retreats. Two different routes were drawn, marked with two different colours. The colours were reduced in amplitude to demonstrate the reduction in the number of soldiers, especially near water courses along the way. He also inserted geographic coordinates, dates, and temperatures.

1931. Harry Beck designed the first schematic map of the London Underground, a simplified representation which showed the different train lines with different colours. The thought behind this proposal was that passengers were not interested in the geographical precision of maps, but wanted to know how to move from one station to another and to know which station they would have to switch trains. Before his idea, the subway map was printed on top of a city map. What a mess!

Today. There are some simple steps or ground rules to follow in order to turn lots of information into a simple infographic that is pleasant to look at. Infographics, today, no longer have to a pie chart or depict the deaths during a war.

How can you tell the difference between a modern infographic from ones used in the past?

1. The message must be interpreted in a clear and immediate manner.

2. The graphics and the words (which are few) must blend harmoniously.

3. Use pictograms: they are easier to understand than using cluttered words.

Here’s what this article would look like if it were an infographic.

neomobile-history-of-infographics tweetable

Where was the #infographic born? Here’s the story! Tweet!

Did you know the first  #infographic dates back prehistoric times? Tweet!

#Infographic: immediate & catchy communication Tweet!

From engineers to statistics: All about the #infographic Tweet!

 

author-2

Annalisa Giangregorio

Graphic Designer …and in this case, also the Editor!

 

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