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Lessons in Conveying Complex Ideas with Simple Graphics from the World’s Best Information Designers

What Frank Zappa’s life has to do with e-waste, whale songs, and the black market for body parts.

Much has been said about visual storytelling and how to tell stories of data in the information age, and there is no shortage of great books on data visualization. But count on Taschen to tackle a big conceptual challenge with a big, beautifully designed book: Information Graphics by art historian Sandra Rendgen explores the four key aspects of visualizing data — Location, Time, Category, and Hierarchy — through exemplary work from more than 200 projects, alongside essays by information architect and TED founder Richard Saul Wurman, Guardian Datablog editor Simon Rogers, Density Design’s Paolo Ciuccarelli, and Rendgen herself.

‘Geek Love,’ The New York Times, newspaper article, 2008
Exposed to Dungeons & Dragons Early in Life. Design: Sam Potts. Art Direction: Brian Rea
‘Medallandssandur,’ a blend of the sound specters form sonar and whale song. From a series of drawings, 2010
Design: Torgeir Husevaag. Article: Adam Rogers
‘The Very Many Varieties of Beer,’ poster, 2010
Design: Ben Gibson, Patrick Mulligan (Pop Chart Lab)

‘Two Mindsets,’ Stanford, magazine article, 2007
Data Source: Carol Dweck: ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’, 2006. Design: Nigel Holmes

‘Body Parts,’ Esquire, magazine article, 2006
Design: Peter Grundy (Grundini). Art Direction: Alex Breuer
‘Frank Zappa Chart,’ painting, 2008
Artist: Ward Shelley (represented by Pierogi Gallery)
‘The Growing E-Waste Situation,’ GOOD, website, 2010
Data Source: CBS News; ABI Research; US EPA; Basel Action Network; Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. Research: Brian Wolford. Design: Andrew Effendy (Column Five Media). Art Direction: Ross Crooks
‘Mission(s) to Mars,’ IEEE Spectrum, magazine article, 2009
Data Source: Cornell University; European Space Agency; NASA; RussianSpaceWeb.com. Design: Bryan Christie, Joe Lertola. Art Direction: Mark Montgomery, Michael Solita

Information Graphics features work by a number of Brain Pickings favorites, including Stefanie Posavec, Nicholas Felton, Ward Shelley, Hans Rosling, Nathalie Miebach, David McCandless, Toby Ng, Michael Paukner, Christoph Niemann, Sam Potts, and Jonathan Harris. The cover image is, of course, the unmistakable Web Trend Map by Information Architects.

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Max Fleischer’s Original 1947 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Animation

How Santa’s ninth reindeer made his on-screen debut.

In 1939, Robert L. May conceived of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in a poem, published in a booklet by iconic department store Montgomery Ward. But “Santa’s 9th Reindeer” didn’t become etched into the nation’s collective imagination until May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, adapted Rudolph into a song in 1949. (What makes the story all the more curious and poetic is that Marks was Jewish, yet he created some of the most popular Christmas songs we know today.)

But Rudolph made his first screen appearance two years earlier, in 1947, in a cartoon short produced by animation pioneer Max Fleischer. The film was later reissued by the Handy (Jam) Organization — who also brought us such gems as a manifesto for makers (1960), cinematic homage to mid-century design (1958), and an animated explanation of how radio broadcasting works (1937) — with the song added in. The 8-minute animation, now in the public domain, is a vintage treat of the most delicious variety:

Fleischer’s film was eventually adapted into a lovely children’s storybook in 1951, illustrated by Richard Scarry.

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