Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Maps and Information: Words & Pictures Part Two

Following up yesterday's post on maps, I offer a handful of image-driven representations of places, things and processes.

If I noticed anything in Monday's class meetings, it was a sense of deflation: "You mean, I'm supposed to show just what a [blank] is and what it looks like, how it works or what parts it has?" As if the problem of communicating, say, insecthood, were stupefyingly easy. As it turns out, such things are surprisingly difficult to do somewhat well, let alone authoritatively. Not all these samples are maps, strictly speaking, but we're not using the term in a narrow way. Each of these examples is relevant.

London to Dover road map (1801) a forerunner of the AAA Triptik, a fond memory from family car trips. Such maps capture the linear quality of traveling in a compartment. You get in, you go for awhile, you stop; you get out in a new environment. You don't navigate terrain on a highway. You proceed along a path established by engineers. From Tufte's Envisioning Information.

Also reproduced in Tufte: this illustration showing the parts and assembly of an IBM Series III copier, drawn by Gary Graham. 1976. I've pulled a detail. Affectless, elegant articulation.

The story of steam power, narrated in a paragraph but captured in a visual set of surprising variety and control. From Our Friend the Atom, a bookification of a Walt Disney film of the same name. 1956. A stunning reminder of midcentury comfort with, and admiration for, science. Mickey Mouse was a positivist with personality.

At the top of this post, a representation of molecular behavior in water at room temperature versus near the boiling point. What clarity, ease, and abstract presence for a straightforwardly informational picture! Also from Atom, 1956.

Two process images: Clam Respiration, by Elizabeth Buchsbaum for Animals Without Backbones, 1938. A genius of lucidity. I have written admiringly of her work before.

And above, Norman Rockwell does heredity. The Family Tree, 1959. The metamorphosis of "data" into anecdote–typically, the exact opposite of informational work.

Finally, the earliest printed medical illustration: a human skeleton printed in Nuremberg in 1493. A striking combination of a visual/typographic vocabulary we associate with religous works, offered in the service of scientific knowledge.