How to turn big data into infographics

‘Big data’ is a popular buzz phrase for large and complex data sets that are difficult to understand, and, crucially, to visualise.

Raw Data: Infographic Designers’ Sketchbooks gives a seldom seen insight into how infographics are made by graphic designers and illustrators.

These are the people who make big data make sense in an age when colossal amounts of information can be gathered and processed digitally at high speed, and where algorithms can predict our behavior and tell us what we want with increasing accuracy.

It is the role of the graphic designer to show us what this data means and how we can make sense of it to improve our lives personally and professionally. This book is about how they do it; how they turn numbers into images.

The large format Raw Data looks at 73 designer profiles and organises them into a perfectly understandable alphabetical order (of course).

It takes in pioneers of infographics like Nigel Holmes whose work has been published widely in periodicals and who honed his talents as graphics editor of Time magazine.

The book takes you straight in to the pages of the designers’ sketchbooks. Leveling on his own, Holmes says, ‘Lots of pages in my notebooks are not filled with sketches but with words that will eventually become the text of diagrams and charts.’

It also takes in emerging talents like British-born Tim Hucklesby, now a designer at Doyle Partners in New York.

Hucklesby, who is seduced by how difficult infographics are to create, says ‘I always want the core idea to be a quick read, as well as encouraging the viewer to keep digging.

‘I tend to slip up in at least one of these criteria, so will keep trying.’

The information itself across the book takes in things like incarceration rates around the world, electoral maps, a diagram on how to deliver a baby, how to deliver the perfect tennis serve, and a diagrammatic expression of data gathered from the Burning Man Festival.

In terms of what constitutes an infographic, however esoteric the data set is, it must tell a factual story rather than an ‘expressive tale or polemic message’ the book finds.

The book is written by Steven Heller chairman of MFA Design: Designer as Author Programme at The School of Visual Arts, New York, and designed by Landers Miller Design.

Raw Data is published by Thames & Hudson, on 6 October, priced £29.95    

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