History & Futures – Week 3: Big Data

Thoughts on Lecture & Resources

Klarna data wall.

Onformative created a highly visual data wall for the Swedish digital payment solution company Klarna, which is ever-changing, as it reflects data in real time – I like this idea because it’s a really unique way to display statistics and truly brings the information to life, as well as showing the fluctuating nature of the figures. The installation is also visually pleasing to look at and I believe has a certain amount of artistic merit in its own right, even if you were to view it in an abstract way.

Information is Beautiful

I was recently given a hardback copy of Information is Beautiful by David McCandless, and I think it’s a fascinating book, full of inspiration for aspiring designers, with a vast range of approaches to creating graphics using data on a variety of topics.

Jane Killips shared a link on the Ideas Wall to a Ted Talk by David McCandless, entitled The beauty of data visualisation, which provided an insight into his journey to becoming a designer, author and data journalist.

He talked about the fact that data is relative and contextual: “Absolute figures like the military budget [of a country] in a connected world don’t give you the whole picture… we need relative figures that are connected to other data so that we can see a fuller picture and then that can lead to us changing our perspective.” (McCandless, 2012)

He also explained some of the challenging aspects of what he does:
“Visualising information is a form of knowledge compression – it’s a way of squeezing an enormous amount of information and understanding into a small space.” (McCandless, 2012)


It’s evident that the role of an effective infographic is to make information easily understood. Below is a very topical example and one I believe to be very successful, from Beautiful News, about the impact and benefits of vaccination against common diseases.

Image via Beautiful News

It clearly demonstrates just how powerful a well-designed graphic can be in helping to convey a set of information. The simplicity of its design means you can understand what it’s trying to depict almost instantly.

Image via Tableau Public.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s just interesting to see what people create visually with a set of data just for the joy of it, like this rather beautiful one based on data from the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Below is a Venn diagram infographic I discovered, created by Column Five for Microsoft, to show some new emojis they proposed, based on social listening research. It’s notable that emojis have really become embedded in modern communication methods such as text message, social media and email, and there is seemingly an appetite for expanding the set of icons.

Image via Column Five.
Lunar calendars by AstroSeek

I have a fascination with Astrology and I found these visualisations of the phases of the Moon throughout 2020 really striking. Each of the graphics you can generate (via an online tool) displays the same information, just presented in a different way.

Workshop Challenge

Global immigration in 1858, by Charles Minard.

The infographic I selected for analysis this week was a chart showing human migration in 1858 by Charles Minard. For my editorial design I took inspiration from the original infographic itself, as well as aiming to evoke a feel of vintage/antique cartography and I researched Victorian-era travel-themed illustrations and etchings as visual reference points.

Some visual elements with a nautical theme that I experimented with for my editorial, many of which are public domain images. Sourced via Rawpixel.

I also looked at some more of Minard’s work to get a broader sense of context.

Cotton exports in 1858, 1864 & 1865 by Charles Minard.
Image via National Geographic.

Literacy levels across the globe was something I investigated as well, to see how this has changed over time:

World literacy rates between 1800 and 2016. Image via Our World in Data.

Design Development

I wanted to create an interesting story cover spread that really showcased
the original 1858 Minard infographic, putting it front and centre.
I also tried to choose a typeface sympathetic to this design and style.
Planning the layout design for the inner spread.
This was a design I generated completely by accident, but I decided to save a copy of the graphic because I thought it looked quite interesting!

I went through several iterations before settling on my chosen design for the inner spread layout.

I eventually decided to add in a watermark effect with a vintage compass graphic in order to balance out the design a bit more.

Design Outcome

Below are the final designs for my editorial spreads. Click here to view this as a PDF.

Reflection on this week

Data visualisation is a topic that really appeals to me. It feels incredibly relevant to modern life and I believe good information design can be a way for graphic designers to have a positive impact on the world around us.

Researching early examples of infographics has provided me with more of a sense of the history of this discipline. It’s also been interesting to learn about the evolution of how information can be visually represented, which continues to evolve to this day, particularly with advances in data, technology and imaging techniques.

I really enjoyed creating the design for my editorial this week, from exploring (or perhaps plundering) a vast library of public-domain imagery from the Victorian era, to making a layout that evokes a vintage-style map. Overall this was quite a departure from my usual aesthetic as a designer, so it was interesting to experiment with something that is a real contrast from my typical approach.

I don’t have a vast amount of experience producing editorial designs, so this is something I intend to continue developing. Having said that, I think my design is quite successful and works as a whole. I found it helpful to look at real-life examples in magazines and also referred back to the guest lecture last term by Matt Willey, which was incredibly inspiring.


McCandless, David. 2012. Information is Beautiful. London: Collins.

Beautiful News Daily. Vaccines Work! [online]. Available at
https://informationisbeautiful.net/beautifulnews/1048-vaccines-work/ [accessed 10/02/2021]

McCandless, David. 2012. The beauty of data visualisation [online lecture]. Ted-Ed. Available at
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Zg-C8AAIGg [accessed 10/02/2021]

Mason, Betsy. 2017. The Underappreciated Man Behind the “Best Graphic Ever Produced”. National Geographic [online]. Available at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/03/charles-minard-cartography-infographics-history/ [accessed 12/02/2021]

Roser, Max and Ortiz-Ospina, Esteban. 2018. Literacy [online]. Available at https://ourworldindata.org/literacy [accessed 12/02/2021]