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The Nerdy Charm of Artisanal, Hand-Drawn Infographics

When sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois crafted his brilliant and colorful data visualizations for the World’s Fair in 1900, he didn’t have the help of a computer. Neither did Florence Nightingale when she visualized the causes of death in the Crimean War in the 1850s. In the early days of data visualization, people made infographics by hand because they had to. Today, that’s not the case. Designers can use software, styli, and tablets to craft glossy data visualizations—and plenty of them do. But many still prefer simple tools—and use them to fantastic effect.

Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec

In a time where slick, computer-made visualizations are standard practice, information designers Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec prove analog illustrations can be just as compelling. A couple years ago, the pair started a project called Dear Data, for which the designers spent every week tracking a bit of personal data—moments of indecision or the number of times they laughed—and translating it into infographics. Those infographics went on postcards, which they mailed each other once a week. Lupi has described the postcards as small data, which hints not only at their quasi-qualitative nature, but their intimate aesthetic. The statistics aren’t perfect, and neither are the drawings, but their imperfections lend the visualizations a more friendly, personal, and evocative feel.

Credit: Stefani Posavec

Mona Chalabi

Chalabi, the data editor for The Guardian US, uses graph paper and markers to tackle some serious (and seriously funny) issues in infographic form. In one recent visualization, Chalabi used two hands to compare the crowd size of President Trump’s inauguration to that of the Women’s March (spoiler: Trump’s hand is smaller). In another, she charted how common it is to have an extra nipple (spoiler number two: men are way more likely). Chalabi’s visualizations have a sketchbook charm to them, but they’re functional, too; her visual style is simple yet adaptable, educational but irreverent, letting her be informative and amusing about a wide range of topics.

Credit: Mona Chalabi

Laurie Frick

Laurie Frick turns data into an aesthetic. The artist, who has tracked her daily activity for the better part of a decade, abstracts her personal data (walking, sleeping, and less quantifiable information like stress levels) into geometric sculptures and paintings. For a recent project called Sleep Drawings (pictured), Frick monitored her sleep patterns with an EEG headband for three years, then translated the data into vibrant water color paintings. “I’ve been trying to understand how it feels to see yourself through your own data,” she says. Her visualizations—she calls them data portraits—give form to the unseen rhythms of our lives. And her medium—paint—gives those portraits a warmth that’s impossible to achieve with technology alone. “Hopefully they’re the antithesis of pixels on glass,” she says.

Credit: Laurie Frick

Jessica Hagy

In theory, Jessica Hagy’s infographics should be boring. In practice, they’re wildly effective. The designer draws simple charts on index cards, scans them, and uploads them to her website, Indexed, where she’s been archiving her cartoon-infographic hybrids since 2006. Hagy is a writer by trade and says her graphs are a form of visual grammar that she can apply to everything from clever jokes to heady philosophical ideas. She keeps her words and phrases short. “Simple sentence structures are quickly ‘gettable’ by most people,” she says. The same goes for her plain, hand-drawn style. Hagy’s graphics hinge on this strict adherence to clarity; like the best punchlines, they’re clever, concise, and though-provoking.

Credit: Jessica Hagy

Ann Friedman

Since 2010, journalist Ann Friedman has hand-scrawled infographics that assign theoretical values to the segments of pie charts with titles like “Why are we so Eager to Defund Planned Parenthood?” and “How Do We Know We’re Too High?”. Some of the charts are funny. Others are politically charged. Whether the’s telling a joke or making an argument, Friedman approaches visualization as a form of storytelling. Her pie charts aren’t sophisticated, and that’s the point; they’re about the words first, the images second.

Credit: Ann Friedman

Wendy MacNaughton

Wendy MacNaughton deals in sentiment more than information. The artist’s whispy illustrations, made from pen and watercolor, are like a therapy session in graphical form, which makes sense considering her background as a social worker. “The field uses diagrams to understand and map relationships and systems,” she says. “My diagrams are basically applying that visual way of thinking to the things I think about everyday.” She’s a master of the flowchart, which she uses to guide people through life’s most perplexing questions (example: What mode of communication should I use?), as well as the Venn diagram, which she deploys to ponder big, philosophical ideas. MacNaughton’s infographics aren’t necessarily precise—in fact, they revel in visual imperfection—but they do illustrate what she considers to be the true purpose of hand-drawn infographics: To make complex relationships, systems, and ideas feel a little more human.

Credit: Wendy MacNaughton


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