The History of the Infographic

Infographics and data visualisation are a widely accessible way in which to represent data and complex ideas in a simpler manner. In the world of marketing we use them time and time again as ways to showcasing data, as linkable assets and as a way to present our business in the best light.

A well designed infographic is a fantastically easy way to offer and showcase and simplify concepts in a complex area and make them a lot more accessible for people without in-depth knowledge. However, even though it may be thought infographics are a new concept – they actually aren’t. People have been using images to represent data for as long as time.

Origins of Infographs

The first ever infographic is often cited as the Paintings_from_the_Chauvet_cave_(museum_replica) in the south of France – this is over 32,000 years ago. The image of the animals and surrounding area’s resources could certainly be depicted as such.

Clearer infographics come in the form of the ancient Egyptians and their hieroglyphics, which used symbols and illustrations to demonstrate different communication. These were used to tell people tales and stories as well as instruct them on certain aspects of their life and how to live it.

Middle Ages

Infographics didn’t truly change until the 17th century and Jesuit priest Christopher Scheiner’s book ‘Rosa Urslina sive Sol’, depicted the sun’s rotational patterns in a diagram form with text. This was the beginning of the infographic in a more deeply informative level.

Another early infographic user was William Playfair – he created what could now be called statistical graphics and utilised bar and line graphs as well as histograms to show the English economy. He also created the first area chart and pie chart in 1801.

It wasn’t just academics that used these charts and in fact Florence Nightingale is noted to have created one to show Queen Victoria the conditions in military hospitals at the time. This used bar graphs and pie charts and showcased the number of deaths from preventable diseases caused by the Crimean War in different colours.

The Big Leap

tube_mapOne of the most well-known infographics today was created in 1933 by Harry Beck. Beck is famed for creating the first version of the London Tube map – still in use today. In fact, it’s still cited inside infographics in homage such is its pivotal importance. The map depicts the lines for public transport and was the first infographic used on an everyday basis by millions.

Other notable heroes of the infographic include Otl Aicher, who created pictograms for the Munich Olympics that are the modern day father of the generic stick man sign we use to cross the street at Walk signs.

Edward Tufte – known as the father of data visualisation also took a great leap forward in 1975 to create a statistical graphic that pioneered the way forward for such designs. Tuft’s self-published Visual Display placed him as one of the top experts in the field and is considered a seminal work in the area of infographics even today.

The arrival of desk top publishing in the 1980s meant that infographics were increasingly easy to make and as such became incredibly popular. This led to their increased use in print, academia and also in business.

The arrival of the World Wide Web and constant improvements in design has meant that infographics have become incredibly popular and dynamic. Modern day tools allow them to react to cursors and actions and have created a new world of interactive visualisations that should change the future.

Infographics are a fantastic manner in which to showcase complex information in an interesting and fun way and have been proven time and time again to be a great way for brands to offer quality information in a reliable manner.

About Cormac Reynolds

Tech journalist, copywriter and lover of all things gadget, Cormac Reynolds has covered the whole technology spectrum at one time or another and remains geek at heart.When he’s not working – he’s swotting up a book or thinking about his next project. Contact him @Brightoncormac

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