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Why Infographics are a Great Way to Show the History of the World

Valentina DEfilippo

published on October 7, 2013 in Storytelling

The Infographic History of the World is a new book that continues to push the field of infographics forward. With beautiful printing and meaningful graphics, Valentina D’Efilippo has done a wonderful job of showing the history of the world.

Being a designer, I usually find it easier to present stories or ideas with scribbles, rather than simply trying to explain them with words. Often, complex stories are more easily communicated, understood and, ultimately, remembered, when they take visual form.

Aside from data and words, infographics use images and graphical representations. Those key elements – images, words and numbers – operate as a system for simplifying information, revealing new patterns, and producing new knowledge in various fields. In fact, they might not have always been called “infographics,” but info/data-based visualizations have always been around.

So, when the book’s editor, Craig Adams approached me with the idea of using infographics to narrate the history of the world, that made perfect sense to me. I immediately thought about how infographics have been routinely used in the studies of natural and human history. Timelines, evolutionary diagrams, representations of the universe – to name a few – lend themselves to unlimited infographic visualizations.

How we approached the task…

We made this book for the specialist and generalist alike. It has more than 100 data visualizations, covering everything from the primordial soup to the technological revolution of the 21st century. The challenge was to keep a good variety of topics and range of visualizations.

Our task required research, organization and the selection of topics. Then, we needed to decide how to display data in order to tell a coherent and compelling story. We have never considered this to be an alternative to tons of books of history, but hopefully a refreshing interpretation of what history is about.

With most books, you read them, absorb the arguments they make, and move on. With this book, we hope to lead readers on a journey, to interpret the data and find the implications that resonate with them. We don’t pretend that every set of data presents an unquestionable truth. And, rather than looking to define the world’s history, we were looking to present readers with an unconventional interpretation of the subject.

In parallel, we tried to break from being too rigid in the data representation. I tried to bear in mind that the ultimate purpose of an infographic is simplification and clarity. But after putting together so many spreadsheets, I allowed myself some freedom – trying to inject a bit of humour into the visual exploration of the content. I hope that, mixed with the excellent accompanying writing of James Ball, the book presents an array of complex information in a contemporary and accessible manner.