Barnbrook's Little Book of Shocking Global Facts
Barnbrook has compiled and designed a 192 page book which combines graphic imagery with hundreds of shocking global facts. Did you know, for example, that 2.6 billion people do not have basic sanitation, or that life expectancy in Swaziland is just 32 years, or that there are nearly 2 million inmates currently housed in US prisons?
The various facts collected in The Little Book of Shocking Global Facts (published by Fiell, £8.95) are arranged into chapters (see two images down for the contents page) and no two spreads share the same design or layout. Essentially the book aims to highlight what the authors see as the dangers of unchecked globalisation.
Here is a selection of spreads:
This is an example of why bad infographics are proliferating around the web. Not good. http://www.visualisingdata.com/index.php/2010/07/worst-graph-design-ever/
Are the guys who created this related to the designers of the Guinness World Records book?
Makes my eyes bleed.
Dear god it's awful.
On the website, it says Jonathan Barnbrook is "the world’s most respected graphic designer". No disrespect meant, but that's a bit of a claim isn't it?
Before the usual anti-Barnbrook hate storm starts up can I just make a plea for commenters to discuss the book? (anything off-topic will be deleted) As Andy Kirk mentions, there has already been some discussion about the merits of it as effective data visualisation which taps into a wider issue about this area and how successful some of the more elaborate examples of data visualisation - not just by Barnbrook but also by others – are in achieving their basic aim of informing and aiding understanding.
And before anyone starts critcising us for not addressing those topics in this post, they will be dealt with in a longer piece in a forthcoming issue of CR.
What matter most in this book are the facts.
I would argue that for the words to be digested adequately the designer needs to be consistent.
These designs might make arresting posters, but in this format they are confusing.
I have nothing against Barnbrook (and I have always been a huge fan of CR) but the cover of this book looks like something i'd ignore in a charity shop. Shouldn't CR be abrogating work such as this or at the very least ignoring such mediocrity? It seems a shame to champion work such as this when the graphic design talent out there at the moment is fantastic.
Thank you for your time. Jon
Why are you assuming it's a case of either or? Just because we post a story about this book it does not preclude us from posting another from someone else. The post before this was of a graduate project – the most recent of a whole host of posts about graduate work over the past few weeks. And we're not 'championing' the book – as I mentioned in an earlier comment we are planning a review on it as part of a wider piece on data visualisation. This is a newsworthy (for whatever reason) addition to a growing body of work in an area that is ripe for discussion
Would you be bothering to read/comment if it wasn't by Barnbrook?
Would this have made it to the CR blog if it wasn't Barnbrook?
Firstly: I agree with Andy Kirk, in that the purpose of a book like this "deserves so much more than what has been produced."
Secondly: Designers tend to judge other designers solely by their work, and ask that they themselves are judged on what they think and plan. I certainly do!
So perhaps with both of those things in mind, should this be set as a student/competition brief?
Can't help but feel that the facts presented here are secondary to Barnbrook's desire to be playful and experimental with typography. Unfortunately there's not much actual experimentation; many spreads look familiar in one way or another, and none of them excite me.
I agree with Pete Harvey – the format does the work no favours, but Barnbrook should have made this clear to the client.
Perhaps the job was poorly art-directed. A consistent style of illustration paired with straight-forward, strong typography could have made this a wonderful coffee table book.
Yes. I bother to read because it's Creative Review.
I dont see it as a question of 'good' or 'bad' design as such. it's provocative and difficult at times – but it forces you to concentrate and pay attention closer to the facts contained within. sometimes facts and figures can just wash over us, at least this is visually disruptive enough to demand the readers attention. sure it's very 'barnbrook' in it's design, but at least it stands apart from the thousands of Feltron rip offs out there.
Fair points Ben and there are, of course, lines of debate around the need for aesthetics and even design 'surprise' (for want of a better term) to play a role in securing the engagement of a viewer. However, in this case we are talking about a design that is supposed to facilitate the communication of facts. It can still be elegant and interesting in design but it shouldn't cause the interpretation of data, or the drawing of insight, to be unnecessarily and inefficiently impeded. We don't want a "Where's Wally" type challenge just to unearth the information on every one of the 185 pages, particularly when its important stuff that is being presented. Get the facts to readers as clearly and as interestingly as possible. This isn't arguing specifically for a Feltron (or Tufte) influenced solution, but there is good reason why their designs are popular - because they achieve engagement with and communication of information.
Im a design student and I have to say the more I read on the CR blog the more I think 'aren't designers a bitchy little lot'. Im all for constructive criticism or criticism that has a point but all the other guff. Look if something bothers you that much just don't click on it. That said im guessing most of the designers that get ripped on here, spend there lives not bothering and actually doing work, not posting pointless stuff on CR, which is why they're probably being shown on the blog and not commenting. Just my two pence, not just on Barnbrook comments but the general vibe of negativity that I read so much.
Design Ethics in 3 easy steps:
1. Accumulate a series of 'facts' from the internet.
2. Turn into a general statement (you'll want it to stand the test of time) by getting rid of any particularities and other problematic details.
3. Present in a contemporary graphic style (NeoGeo + Code Lite + Printernet)
You are now an ethical designer. Fact.
Become a whiney CR blog commenter in 3 easy steps:
1. Have a personal agenda which is more to do with bigging yourself up or a personal prejudice against the designer, throw in a couple of personal insults for good measure.
2. Link to your own blog or web site of your own utterly mediocre, commercial design, showing you neither have the commissions, intelligence or talent to comment.
3. Generally do absolutely nothing active or positive in the world of graphic design except sit on your fat arse and complain.
You are now an the typical CR commenter. Fact.
Hilarious lunchtime read. Coffee down, back to work.
Digital Arts Online has an interview with Barnbrook designer, Jon Abbott, who details the process and rationale of the design. Abbott says ‘Our belief is that a book which is quickly digested is quickly forgotten. I would argue the reader deserves more credit than that, and I think people are willing to take the time to delve into a complex illustration again and again.’ http://www.digitalartsonline.co.uk/news/?newsId=3232406
Meanwhile Good Design // Bad Design’s brief overview provides further links to some detailed criticisms (Visualising Data, Feltron and Infosthetics) that suggest that the graphics in this book tend to visually misrepresent the information detailed, such as the following quote: ‘I find this piece extremely dangerous, as it shows the strength of this language to influence and the power of ill-formed graphics to deceive’ -- Feltron. http://www.gooddesignbaddesign.com/?p=628
While Feltron (et al) provide well-informed and valid criticisms when viewed from those particular positions, they fail to acknowledge the possibility of their being any other explanation for why these designs appear as they do. Such positions rely upon an assumption that the designs in this book are designed to function as information graphics and nothing else. However, while that may be an easy assumption to make, it closes the door too quickly on alternative explanations. So while there are indeed instances where such criticisms are a welcome response I would claim they are not appropriate for this book as they confuse appearance with function. Indeed I would suggest it is akin to criticising a tomato for not bouncing like a red rubber ball. While we can imagine instances where it would be possible to mistake a tomato for a red rubber ball, if we tried to bounce the tomato we would quickly discover that it was a very different object. We clearly had not inquired into our object enough prior to throwing it. It would be somewhat disingenuous then, if we went on to discredit the tomato for not bouncing--for failing to be a red rubber ball--as the mistake was clearly ours to start with.
If we return to the design of the book we can see that while the pages do use some aspects of information design, these aspects are primarily employed as graphic devices and not as objective, statistical referents that convey quantifiable information. In that sense they are much closer to the subjective quality of illustrations, and in particular the satirical cartoon, that conveys facts as politically charged struggles. Just think of the classic anthropomorphic map, ‘Carte drôlatique d’Europe pour 1870‘ of France by Paul Hadol. In that map each country was represented by a caricature of its national ‘persona’, which meant that the geographical and physical aspects were subsumed for that purpose. One set of facts were visually distorted in order to make a claim about something else. While it may not be apparent, I would argue, that this is closer to the intention of this books aesthetics and that needs to be taken into account if the design is to be properly critiqued.
"Information is Beautiful" http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/
Is much better AND informative...
And it is nowhere as busy and garish as this.
I would like to question whether this book really justifies what it is trying to state. It all seems rather flash and over designed for what could basically just go on a three page leaflet saving costs which could be given to the poor that it claims to help. I'm sure the price tag of 9 quid is more than likely to put most people off so why have they completely over designed this? On a positive note I like some of the graphics on the pages they have chosen some of them very well from the above photos.
It used to be the legibility police, now it’s the (usually male) sour-faced infographic police who tell us what is the right and wrong way to do things – and should anyone step out of line then there is hell to pay – look, even with a cursory glance at this its pretty clear Felton and his like have misunderstood this project and its clearly not simply a piece of infographics, but a book adds a bit of entertainment and pace into the mix. I do think there reaction are rather pompous and over-the-top.
It does seem that here we are going back to something similar to the 'legibility' debate with the Modernist typographers. Surely there is room for shades of grey in a project rather than it being one thing or the other? i would say this publication looks like it is done with panache and at a graphic level i think very few people can match. So will expect to see some of the book's 'look' watered down and used by the designers on here who are all complaining about it.
It seems that in 90% of the comments on this blog, Barnbrook have been criticised for their success, their ability to inject graphic excitement into the often stale representation of information (surely the point of infographics is to inform and to excite people about the issues the imagery is representing?) and for getting coverage for their work (@Jon: "It seems a shame to champion work such as this when the graphic design talent out there at the moment is fantastic." I think perhaps you are implying that your work should be featured on CR rather than Barnbrook's...) I think Barnbrook deserve credit for championing graphic designers with a voice, rather than the faceless Mac-monkeys that sadly a lot of people perceive graphic designers as!
As for the problem with legibility, this quote from Jon Abbott from Barnbrook might explain why they haven't gone for a typical infographics 'look':
"Our belief is that a book which is quickly digested is quickly forgotten. I would argue the reader deserves more credit than that, and I think people are willing to take the time to delve into a complex illustration again and again."
For those of you with doubts about the authority of the facts in this book (@ Voila: "1. Accumulate a series of 'facts' from the internet."), I found the extensive list of sources at the back of the book very reassuring, have a look!
Sounds like a wonderful idea to call attentions on the dangers of globalism but the texts used is incredibly difficult to read despite seeking to make the subject more interesting to readers. The facts themselves sounds very interesting.
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