Brain Pickings

Visual Storytelling: New Language for the Information Age

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We now live in a world where information is potentially unlimited. Information is cheap, but meaning is expensive. Where is the meaning? Only human beings can tell you where it is. We’re extracting meaning from our minds and our own lives.”

These words of wisdom come from legendary inventor and futurist George Dyson, who in a recent interview contemplated the growing disconnect between information and meaning in the age of data overload. Over the past several years, our quest to extract meaning from information has taken us more and more towards the realm of visual storytelling — we’ve used data visualization to reveal hidden patterns about the world, employed animation in engaging kids with important issues, and let infographics distill human emotion. In fact, our very brains are wired for the visual over the textual by way of the pictorial superiority effect.

It would be ridiculous to try to express by curved lines moral ideals, the prosperity of peoples, or the decadence of their literature. But anything that has to do with extent or quantity can be presented geometrically. Statistical projections which speak to the senses without fatiguing the mind, possess the advantage of fixing the attention on a great number of important facts.” ~ Alexander von Humboldt, Political Essay on the Kingdom of Spain, 1811

Visual Storytelling: Inspiring a New Visual Language, from the fine folks at Gestalten, gathers the most compelling work by a new generation of designers, illustrators, graphic editors, and data journalists tackling the grand sensemaking challenge of our time by pushing forward the evolving visual vocabulary of storytelling.

Vahram Muratyan: Paris vs. New York: L’obsession

Peter Ørntoft: Information Graphics in Context, a project illustrating a ranked list of social concerns in Denmark

Peter Ørntoft: Information Graphics in Context, a project illustrating a ranked list of social concerns in Denmark

Gregory Ferembach: The Movies Flowcharts

Gregory Ferembach: The Movies Flowcharts

Carl Kleiner's 'Homemade Is Best' IKEA cookbook

Part of the 'Oceans' campaign for Greenpeace, showing the devastating effects of FADs (fish aggregation devices) used in commercial tuna fishing

An infographic showing the details that go into a Formula 1 event, from traveling furniture to vodka to spare engines

Jan Schwochow, Katharina Stipp, David Weinberg: A graphic comparing highway speed limits in countries around the world and showing the number of traffic deaths per 100,000 inhabitants

Road Map of the Eye, part of Katja Günther's Cartographic project visualizing information by mapping relevant elements

Orenzo Petrantoni: Piece was commissioned by the Wall Street Journal for an article about the countries, themes, and characters involved in the Gulf crisis

Alexandra Muresan: The Paper Pie Chart; various paper products such as tissue, cardboard, writing paper, and newsprint are used in corresponding amounts to make a pie chart representing the breakdown of paper production in the united states in 2000

From hand-drawn diagrams to sophisticated data visualization, by way of graphic design, illustration, photography, and information architecture, this magnificent volume of contemporary and experimental visual storytelling explores what it means to convey information with equal parts clarity and creativity, speaking with remarkable aesthetic eloquence about the things that matter in the world today.

Every field has some central tension it is trying to resolve. Visualization deals with the inhuman scale of the information and the need to present it at the very human scale of what the eye can see.” ~ Martin Wattenberg in The Economist, 2010

Wataro Yoshida: Composition of Mammals, a fictional exhibition using fictional places to study the anatomy of mammals with displays of taxidermy and skulls and accompanying informational posters about the complex structure of each mammal's body

Wataro Yoshida: Composition of Mammals, a fictional exhibition using fictional places to study the anatomy of mammals with displays of taxidermy and skulls and accompanying informational posters about the complex structure of each mammal's body

Lucas Van Vuuren: Lunch, a thorough decision tree

David Garcia Studio: MAP 001 Antarctica, part of MAP (Manual of architectural Possibilities), a publication that aims to merge science and research with architectural design

David Garcia Studio: MAP 002 Quarantine

Stunning, ambitious, and thoughtfully curated, Visual Storytelling is part high-concept dictionary for a language of increasingly critical importance, part priceless time-capsule of bleeding-edge creativity from the Golden Age of information overload, the era we call home.

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Picasso Paints on Glass

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A voyeuristic peek at the master making magic.

The great Pablo Picasso — painter, sculptor, printmaker, stage designer, notorious list-maker, cross-disciplinary creator and proponent of combinatorial creativity — would have been 130 today. To celebrate, here’s a piece of now-legendary footage of Picasso painting on glass with a camera rolling on the other side of it, revealing a rare glimpse of the genius at work as he paints his famous Torros with meticulously measured yet effortless brush strokes.

The footage is part of Paul Haesaert’s short 1950 documentary, Visit to Picasso, which you can watch online in its entirety. Go ahead, have your breath taken away.

On a semi-related note, while digging for a DVD copy of the film — to no avail, sadly — I serendipitously discovered this utterly gorgeous original 1971 print of a 1946 poster for a lecture by Picasso and Haesaert, designed by Picasso himself:

For an intimate, revealing and, yes, opinionated journey into the great artist’s heart and mind, look no further than Gertrude Stein’s timeless memoir, simply titled Picasso.

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Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





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The Phantom Tollbooth at 50: Celebrating Timeless Imagination

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What dumpster-diving in the 1960s has to do with timeless wisdom for the eternal kid.

The Phantom Tollbooth isn’t merely one of the most celebrated children’s books of all time, it’s also one of those rare children’s books with timeless philosophy for grown-ups, its map of The Kingdom of Wisdom a profound metaphor for curiosity and the human condition. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the beloved classic and there’s hardly a better celebration than The Phantom Tollbooth 50th Anniversary Edition — a magnificent volume featuring brief essays from renowned authors, educators, and artists — including Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins, Jeanne Birdsall, and Mo Willems — alongside the complete original text and illustrations of the book and the now-legendary 35th anniversary essay by Where The Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak.

Packaged in the classic original art, stamped and debossed on the case with a transparent acetate jacket, the book is an absolute treasure to touch and to hold, exuding in a tactile way the intangible magic that fueled a half-century of heart-warming enchantment.

Here’s a lovely short documentary about the book’s masterminds, author Norton Juster and illustrator Jules Feiffer, reminiscing about the unusual spark of their collaboration and the original creative process behind the work:

In another celebration of the 50th anniversary, a team of Brooklyn-based filmmakers is bringing to life a documentary about the beloved work of the imagination, currently raising funds on Kickstarter.

Juster’s new picture book, Neville, is also out today and looking absolutely delightful.

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