Week Three: Big Data

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

This weeks lecture is about visualising data and information. As mentioned, images are a universal language that everyone can understand. For centuries images have been used to tell stories, educate, and inform. Below are some examples of how different cultures around the world have previously used images as a tool for communication.

Lascaux, France, cave paintings

Image: What the Lascaux Cave Paintings Tell Us About the Nature of Human Desire | by Steve Chatterton | Medium

Egyptian Hieroglyphs

Image: Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs Royalty Free Cliparts, Vectors, And Stock Illustration. Image 9532981. (123rf.com)

Chinese Symbols

Image: Chinese symbol: 川, river, creek; Szechwan (chinese-word.com)

One quote that stood out for me during the lecture and what seemed to be the purpose of information graphics and visualising data is by Lindon Leader, which is:

"I strive for two things in design: simplicity and clarity. Great design is born of these two things."

Lindon Leader

In today's world, we're now exposed to vast amounts of information and data which we need to be simplified with the facts and important information clear. Information needs to be readable, clean, and concise but it also needs to be attractive too, to draw our attention. Below are some examples of this. The last example is an earthquake report which happened recently in Taiwan.

Image: (50) Pinterest

Image: (50) Pinterest

Image: (50) Pinterest

Image: Taiwan hit by magnitude 5.5, 5.7 earthquakes 2 minutes apart | Taiwan News | 2021/02/09

And, of course, information graphics don't always have to inform or educate, they can merely be a means to entertain and evoke humour. Below is an example of how to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Image: 10 Humorous Infographics Beautifully Designed (vandelaydesign.com)

David McCandless: The Beauty of Data Visualisation

Image: https://www.ted.com/talks/david_mccandless_the_beauty_of_data_visualization

  • Design information to tell a story is easier to understand

  • Designed data looks cool!

  • Colour code

  • Show patterns and connection

  • Make it relative

  • Information map, find your way through the information

  • Humour

  • Be clean and simple

  • Knowledge compression

  • Solving information problems

Workshop Challenge

For the workshop challenge, the data example I decided to run with was the Charles Minard, Global Immigration (1858) map. Firstly, what stood out to me the most was the colours against the fairly plain background, which can be identified as the world map.

Charles Minard, Global Immigration (1858)

Image: Global emigration in 1858 indicating countries migrants left ( Charles Minard ) : MapPorn (reddit.com)

500 Word Synopsis

As mentioned before, I was immediately drawn to the Charles Minard Global Immigration (1858) map because of the colours. The map charts the numbers and destinations of emigrants from Europe, Africa, China, and South Asia for the year 1858. The map is extremely well detailed as after first being drawn to the colours of each line your attention turns to the varied thickness of each line. The thick/thinness of each line is a direct correlation to the number of emigrants it represents. Each one-millimetre within the line represents one thousand five hundred people. I appreciate this detail as once you're aware that this map is detailing immigration you automatically assume that the varied thickness in lines correlates to the number of people, with the thicker width being a larger number, yet Minard has accounted for every detail.

Each line is linked between ports and destinations too. This another detail I appreciate as he hasn't simply linked destinations, from this map you can probably pinpoint the exact ports the immigrants departed from and arrived too.

The choice of colours makes it easy to distinguish each country although a criticism I have noticed is that there is no clear indication of the direction of movement. The use of arrows would signify the direction of movement although I wonder if Minard didn't include this on purpose because, as mentioned, every other detail has been well considered. Maybe the use of arrows would take away the beauty and simplicity of the map as what I've learnt so far about infographics is they should be clean, simple, and easy on the eye. Although, with this in mind, the colours are coded by country in the top right corner so I feel this criticism is only minor. Or, perhaps Minard is relying on the viewer's intelligence to distinguish the direction of movement. Minard has already presented enough information that a little thought process from the viewer isn't too much to consider. Some knowledge of politics, economics, and so on of the various countries displayed would lead to an understanding of why people would immigrate during this particular time in itself.

As mentioned in my blog, one quote that stood out for me in the lecture was the one by Lindon Leader, who said, "I strive for two things in design: simplicity and clarity. Great design is born of these two things." This quote condenses down what good design should be, simple and clear. When looking at Minard's map I feel that it covers both being simple and clear. Minard has taken all the relevant information and presented it in an easily digestible way. As previously mentioned, the thickness of each line has been carefully measured by the millimetre to accurately reflect the number of people yet you don't need to know this to assume that's what is intended by the varied sizes of the width of each line.

Minard's map holds a great weight of detail and information that probably isn't evident at first glance which reflects the level of thoughtful design that has been applied.


Minard Inspired Immigration Bag

I've got some screen printing paints that seem to match the colours of the Charles Minard, Global Immigration (1858) map. I also have a spare canvas bag so am trying to replicate the map onto the bag. The bag is symbolic of immigration and moving. I think this is going a bit off-piste but seemed to fit..


I appreciate how data design makes our lives a lot easier, especially when we're exposed to so much information daily. To be able to visually see the information that is easy to digest allows us to make quick informed decisions on what could be a very complex and difficult issue.

For my workshop challenge, I'm glad I decided to involve painting a canvas bag in response to Charles Minards immigration map. Although not an editorial I felt that Minard's map was beautiful and felt like a work of art, which I feel is the purpose of data design. I feel that it's meant to welcome an audience to learn about a complex issue rather than be frightened of it. My choice to use a bag was a symbolic response to the nature of the map reflecting immigration and the image of immigration that comes to mind is movement, travelling, luggage, thus the bag. I could perhaps envision a series of these bags made with different prints from different immigration maps from different times in history on a catwalk to perhaps inform us of how people from different countries, races and religions have moved, constantly throughout time for different reasons. this would come at a time where people are abused, ridiculed, and punished for their movements without realising the circumstances.


phineas (n.d.). Minard’s 1858 Map of World Migration – Sankey Diagrams. [online] Available at: http://www.sankey-diagrams.com/minards-1858-map-of-world-migration/ [Accessed 12 Feb. 2021].

Cartographia. (2008). Minard on Immigration. [online] Available at: https://cartographia.wordpress.com/2008/05/12/minard-on-immigration/ [Accessed 12 Feb. 2021].

McCandless, D., 2021. The beauty of data visualization. [online] Ted.com. Available at: <https://www.ted.com/talks/david_mccandless_the_beauty_of_data_visualization> [Accessed 10 March 2021].

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