Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Monday, November 9, 2009

about those charts

The Lord of the Rings (etc.) chart I posted the other day is not as good an example of my chart-fascination as the John Bunyan chart that came before. The LOTR timeline is an Edward Tufte-ish kind of chart: what Tufte calls “the visual display of quantitative information.” And Tufte’s explorations of how quantitative information is, and can be, displayed are really fascinating.

But what I’m interested in is the graphico-visual display of thoughts. That is: in what circumstances do we decide that words are not enough to present our ideas, but that the words must be placed in an organized visual field? — maybe something as simple as a table, or org chart, but maybe something more sophisticated and visually complex. Look again at that Bunyan chart: it has many words, but not nearly as many as it would have had if Bunyan had decided to present his ideas in ordinary prose. Instead, the graphico-visual display makes a series of linkages that allow Bunyan to use far fewer words and to get a very complex account of human behavior onto one page. One very large page, true, but still.

That’s the sort of thing I’m interested in, and will be posting about from time to time. The “chart” tag is your entrance ticket.


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