The Design of Information

Information Design

Posts in the ‘Information Design’ Category

Game On continues to push the envelope on incorporating information graphics in a multi-faceted online experience. Baseball is probably more stats-driven than any other sport out there, and MLB’s Gameday capitalizes on that with more ways of looking at a game than you can shake a (Candle)stick at. They’ve done a fine job of incorporating color, motion, tables and graphs, along with images of the field that make you feel like a part of it all.

A stat new to me is the “nasty factor” for pitching.  According to the website, it takes into account velocity, pitch sequence, location, and movement, while adjusting for the pitcher’s specific experience with the current batter. And that’s just one of many stats you can explore during a game.

I wonder if the teams are using this to help them win games. Go Giants!


In-Game Infographic from Major League Baseball


Global Connections

SCU President's Report CoverI keep meaning to post about some recent data visualization work from Threestory Studio that formed an integral part of Santa Clara University’s President’s Report. The design firm Cuttriss & Hambleton did a great job with the overall design of the report while we focused on the infographic components.

The spread featured here highlights SCU’s global reach, showing the inflow of international students who study at the university and the outward reach of students who leave to study abroad during their time at SCU. A third layer of global connectivity shows the affiliated Jesuit institutions scattered across the world. It all serves to give you the sense that this is a place that is anything but provincial.

You can see the whole report in a handy PDF viewer (here’s a screenshot). Clicking on this image will show you a large scale version of the illustration itself.

Historical Visualizations

Here’s one person’s list of the “12 Great Visualizations that Made History“. I’m in general agreement, although I think #11 (the gold plaque on the Pioneer 11 spacecraft) can’t count until we hear back from the aliens.

Reading the raw data, or even a well-written description, doesn’t have the same impact on understanding as an effective visualization. Like in this famous image of how to pack a slave ship (#2 on the list):

Slave Ship graphic

Layers of the Egyptian Revolution

This week, my sister tipped me off about The Atavist, a new take on multi-layered storytelling via iPhone or iPad apps (also available on Kindle and Nook). Threestory Studio got its name in part because of my interest in telling stories visually, so I was intrigued to see what The Atavist had to offer.

One of the first things I discovered was a rich infographic showing the events leading up to the fall of the regime in Egypt. It combines a timeline of events with web traffic data and social media engagement in Egypt.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the black bars rising from the bottom were – they appear to indicate numbers of people involved in protests or revolutionary activities. Otherwise, this graphic receives high marks.

The full graphic can be downloaded here. It was created by Erik Steiner of the Spatial History Project at Stanford University.


Mapping your connections

Just discovered LinkedIn InMaps today. A good example of interactive information graphics that can lead to discovery. Interesting to find the connections that bridge groups. Like the “I didn’t know Tony knew Larry!” moment.

InMap on LinkedIn - Tony's connections

This fact would have been discoverable just browsing through my connections on the standard LinkedIn site, but seeing the whole network mapped in one place removes a lot of barriers to this kind of discovery.

The zoomed-out view shows an accurate picture of my circles – the smaller clearly defined orange is a networking group I’ve been closely connected to for over a dozen years, the dense multicolored cluster opposite are my various church connections, with family mixed in. In between are various work and school connections that are scattered and less well-defined.

LinkedIn map

It’s not hard to create your own. Try it here. I’m curious to see what other people’s networks are shaped like.


Meta Infographic

It may seem like a bit of navel gazing, but Ivan Cash, an art director based in Amsterdam, has created an interesting infographic of infographics. The sample size is a bit low – he examined only 49 individual infographics to draw his conclusions – but I’m guessing his goal was more self-promotional than academic. He seems to have gained some notoriety from it. Mission accomplished.

Maybe most interesting to me is that “health” was the most common theme. I wonder if that would hold up with a larger sampling.

Infographic of Infographics

MPG (Miles Per Graphic)

The EPA has announced a new fuel efficiency label for cars – mandatory in 2013. It’s a nice effort toward providing some information design, but it makes my head hurt a little more than it should. Too much cramped type, overbearing borders and a confused information hierarchy.

EPA New Fuel Economy label

The apparently committee-designed version adds a figure for what you will save (or spend) compared to the average vehicle over 5 years. Seems like that could have been integrated with the Annual Fuel cost more tightly to save space and increase clarity.

The original proposed design (below) had a little more breathing room and the useful feature (in my opinion) of ranking fuel economy within the vehicle class as well as compared to the overall average. For those who need a large car (to carry 8 kids safely through the mountains, for example), it’s just stating the obvious to tell them that an SUV is not going to have the fuel economy of the average car.

Fuel Economy label EPA design August 2010

It took 30 years to decide to do this redesign. Look for a new and improved label in 2040.


Notabilia – A Tree Grows in Wikipedia

Moritz Stefaner is a freelance designer in Europe creating some beautiful and data-rich visualizations. I came across his Notabilia project yesterday, after following a lead from someone at The Leonardo.

It maps the collective editing process for Wikipedia articles up for deletion. Right-leaning red segments are votes to delete; left-leaning green ones are votes to keep. The shape of each branch is an excellent mapping of the shape of the discussion. And the collection of 100 branches makes a lively, energetic whole that begs to be explored.

Projects like this excite me about the power of information design to bring things to light that aren’t easily discernible any other way.

Notabilia Tree Image from Moritz Stefaner

Putting a Price on Moms

Thanks to my nephew Christopher for bringing this infographic to my attention. According to the calculations done by the creators of the graphic (, a stay-at-home mom should be paid $115,432 for her troubles, including 56.6 hours of overtime. Still a gross underestimation of the value of a full-time mother.

I like the inventive use of the circular graphic to show salary earned vs. time spent, though I needed the accompanying tables to help me figure out what was going on.  Like most good infographics, this one starts with a compelling idea and interesting data. That was enough to make me want to spend the time to understand it.

I’ve only shown part of it here. It’s worth clicking through to see the whole thing.

Happy Mother’s Day!


What's a Mother Worth?


Talent Traffic 2.0

Thanks to my brother for pointing me to this simple but telling graphic showing the flow of talent among the top tech companies. It was created by TopProspect and was featured recently on TechCrunch.

Talent Traffic from TopProspect

I like the simplicity of this, but it seemed like there was an opportunity to go a little further. Here’s my take on the same data expressing the ratios visually:
Talent Traffic 2.0
I can think of several other factors pertinent to talent flow that would be nice to show: company size (Microsoft=89,000+, LinkedIn=~1,000); revenues, age of company, geographic location, average age of employee, some gauge of talent (productivity per employee? IQ?). Then, of course, I’d like to see this all animated over time to see how the flow shifts and size changes. Anyone game?

The birth of an information design blog

icons data diagrams maps illustrations

Seemed like a good day to march forth with a new blog, so here it is, Threestory Studio‘s take on the world of information design. Expect to see examples of interesting data graphics, explanatory diagrams or engaging illustrations – from Threestory Studio and from others. And I’d love to hear it if you come across any stellar examples of the design of information. Off we go…

The Flaw of Averages

Reading today in Rudolf Arnheim’s Visual Thinking, I came across this delightful extract from Francis Galton (half-cousin to Charles Darwin). It appears in the middle of a discussion about the difference between static and dynamic concepts.

“It is difficult to understand why statisticians commonly limit their inquiries to Averages, and do not revel in more comprehensive views. Their souls seem as dull to the charm of variety as that of the native of one of our flat English counties, whose retrospect of Switzerland was that, if its mountains could be thrown into its lakes, two nuisances would be got rid of at once.”

As Arnheim points out in the same chapter, there is an “attractive simplicity” in static concepts which can create tension with our human desire to comprehend more deeply and completely. I feel that tension and want both the simple, distilled understanding and the deep comprehension that comes from nuanced individual experience. I want both the forest *and* the trees.

Is that too much to ask?

The Urbanization of Planet Earth

Richard Saul Wurman, coiner of the term “information architect” and founder of the TED Conferences (ideas worth spreading), is behind an effort to examine 19 cities of 20 million or more in the 21st century. They are calling it 19.20.21. It promises insights into the impact of the increasing urbanization of the world’s population.

There isn’t much there yet, but it did provide me with some new knowledge. Did you know that Cordova (Córdoba) Spain was the world’s largest city in the year 1000? And that we’ve gone from 3% of the world living in cities in 1800 to more than half of us being city dwellers now? I wonder how they are defining “city”. I’m interested to see how they present their findings.


Time(line) Travel at Hipmunk

Sorting through air travel options can be mind-numbing. The timeline approach at Hipmunk makes it easy to see everything you want to know about available alternatives: price, departure and arrival, length of flight, stop-overs, airlines. They have an “agony” algorithm that brings the least painful itineraries to the top. You can also sort instantly by more traditional criteria. And a quick click gives you all the details you need to know about a flight without having to go to a new page.

Well thought out, all the way around. Only gripe is the lack of Southwest Airlines options, but that’s not Hipmunk’s fault – you won’t find them on Orbitz either.

Time to book a flight to Honolulu.

Hipmunk air travel search

Visual Pythagoras

Reading Edward Tufte’s “Envisioning Information“, I came across a simple graphic, originally published in the Chinese mathematics treatise Zhou Bi Suan Jing (or Chou Pei Suan Ching) that impressed with its simplicity. It’s a visual, geometric way of proving the Pythogorean Theorem that was published around 2,000 years ago. If you compare it with Euclid’s proof, this picture is worth about 500 words.

Any mathematicians out there know that there are many ways to prove the theorem attributed to Pythogoras – I like the simple elegance of this one. Here’s my redrawing of the Chinese original.

Visual proof of Pythagorean Theorem

Visualizing Complexity

The work I enjoy most is divided pretty evenly between two things: visualizing complex data and visualizing complex systems. Both are trying to get at truth through some degree of abstraction.

Choosing the right type of chart for your data should be a thoughtful process and may, at times, requires some creative thinking, but choosing the right format for showing a system can be a lot less straightforward. There is seldom just one right way to depict a system. I find myself grappling with how position, shape, size and color might give meaning to different viewers in different contexts – not to mention line weight, arrow style, iconography, etc. Developing a consistent visual language can be a challenge, but it pays dividends, especially in a series of related diagrams.

Despite the complexity, or maybe because of it, I find great satisfaction in discovering simple solutions that are true and understandable. The best diagrams often feel simple and obvious when they are done. Which means that people who weren’t part of the process don’t look at the result and say “Wow, that’s amazing! How did you do that!”

Which makes it a little harder to show examples and have people appreciate what went into the image they are seeing, but I’ll show a few anyway. Here are some examples from work done for Palo Alto Networks.

Their large scale VPN technology:
Palo Alto Networks VPN

And their Panorama technology:

Palo Alto Networks Panorama launches

The promised infographic résumé tool that I mentioned a few posts back has launched at It’s a customizable infographic interpretation of your LinkedIn profile, to which you can add skills and other experience. Using LinkedIn to populate the infographic gives a jumpstart to the process. Seeing work experience in a timeline makes a lot of sense, though the scale of the education timeline differs from work experience in a way that gives a distorted view. See my full infographic CV: infographic

Your Résumé as an Infographic

Looks like you may soon be able to create a visual version of your resume in “one click” with the help of Resumes are certainly fertile ground for visual rethinking, and what job applicant doesn’t want their resume to stand out from the pack?

Looks like Fast Company got access to a beta version of the software — you can see a version Ashton Kutcher’s resume on their site.

We’ll see how much customizing is possible once they launch. With the diversity of individual experiences and the differences among job opportunities, it seems like customized options are a must — I know I wouldn’t send the same resume to two different potential employers. If this catches on, it may make it easier for employers to compare resumes, but that would lead us back to people wanting to differentiate. Maybe that’s where starts up-charging for higher levels of customization. Sounds a little like Sylvester McMonkey McBean and the racket he pulled off on the Sneetches. Are there stars upon yars?


infographic resume

This blog is focused on information design, the creation of infographics for visual understanding of complex processes, data and ideas.

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