Monday, October 12, 2009

Maps and Information: Words & Pictures Part One

I am teaching a class called Word & Image 1 this fall with the excellently dry + smart graphic designer Heather Corcoran, a longtime colleague. Heather, a writer and designer for information, strategic and brand contexts, is a great teacher–I get a huge charge out of working with her. Our course stresses creative methodology and 2-dimensional design while also working on a diagnostic level to help students identify whether theirs is a more design-centric or image-centric approach to visual communication. (And yes, that pairing begs a few questions; no time to dwell on the vocabulary today.) Sometimes Heather and I run parallel projects, and sometimes we work together on a single one.

At the moment, we are working with students on a shared project: a Zoo System Map, which asks the group to construct a map (understood broadly) using the St. Louis Zoo as a source or a point of departure. The project sheet reads in part:

Like other zoos around the world, the Saint Louis Zoo is a complex place. You might think about it as a system made up of many smaller systems, visible and invisible. These systems organize animals, grounds, employees, and visitors. They include things that curators consider such as as taxonomies of animals and species, and
evolutionary systems. Systems also include things that visitors experience such as walking and train routes and stroller rental programs. There are systems for donor signage, food distribution, and animal health.

The project calls for an oversize printed project, greater than 10" x 16".

As the course title suggests, these maps will have to engage both words and images. Some will emphasize one more than another. Some will be more schematic than depictive; others will stress the pictorial.

As an aid to the group, we are using this space to provide a set of examples. This post will be devoted to the first set, curated and captioned by Ms. Corcoran. These represent a diverse set of maps, which include geographical, numerical and narrative information to varying degrees.

At the top of this post: Example 1. A Glimpse into our Carbon-Filled Future, Good Magazine. Ironic presentation of information; comfortable, friendly, almost childlike presentation belies negative predictions for the future. Note how each axis (x and y) are used; time is horizontal while emissions are vertical, moving from the ground up.

Example 2. Country by Country Abortion Laws, Good Magazine. Map functions partially as a table of information. Compression of geographic detail in favor of clear shapes that are easy for the eye to perceive and compare. Hue changes at each level, as does value.

(Note: I was unfamiliar with Good Magazine. Four of Heather's examples come from that publication, so I looked it up. The editorial statement reads as follows: "GOOD - a platform for people who want to do well by doing good. We stand as independent media in the form of a bold, visually stimulating magazine and website that blend wit and relevant information. We engage and challenge the people, ideas and institutions driving change in the world." The web-delivered infographic section is called Transparency.)

Example 3. Health Care Costs Vary Widely by Region, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Effective use of value to convey intensity of spending. (Posted to a useful blog about Information Design, Flowing Data.)

Example 4. On News, Good Magazine. Typographic solution; size of word conveys significance of topic in the headlines. Position of words in composition is random, but size and color are carefully controlled.

Example 5. The First Garden, Good Magazine. Geographic map using illustrative icons.

Example 6. The Sad Tally, designed by Todd Trumbull for the San Francisco Chronicle. Schematic map that combines geographic and other forms of data.

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