Infographics may seem fairly recent, but their history goes way back to the first time humankind made an attempt to communicate. We have seen infographics in caves, walls, pottery, newspapers, books, metro stations, and the Olympic Games, and what they have to say to us is as important as it was back then.
But wait, what is an infographic?
It’s the presentation of massive amount of data presented in a concise, highly visual format.
When did we start making infographics?
Let’s take a journey back in time, long ago… when you were a kid. Remember the day you were first presented with those colorful and delicious objects called ‘crayons’? What’s the first thing you did with them? After chewing them for a while, that is. That’s right, you started drawing!
Well, homo sapiens did just the same.
For humankind, language, as we know it today, was an unreachable tool based in sounds and gestures. But drawings? They meant something deeper to them. Using simple shapes and basic colors, the mind spoke through the hands, copying reality into the most basic infographics we know today.
The earliest graphical informations printed on caves date to over 30,000 years ago. So, we’ve drawing for a while now.
Through time, drawings have been used as decoration, to record historical events, as musical codes and even to save lives. They’ve gotten richer over time by the contributions of numbers, graphs, colors and forms.
Here’s what you need to know:
- The earliest known drawings were found on the walls of caves in France and Spain (30,000 to 10,000 B.C.).
- The Egyptians used this process to tell stories of life, work and religion (3,000 B.C.).
- The Greeks went through a ‘Geometric age‘ which basically led to the establishment of their primary institutions. The earliest drawings are found mostly as decorations in pottery vases (1,000 to 700 B.C.).
- The Chinese writing system, instead of using letters to represent sounds, was the first to use characters to represent ideas. Some of these characters come from the Shang Dynasty (1200–1050 BC). The system was standardized under the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC).
- Around the year 1026, Guido of Arezzo developed a technique for teaching music combining symbols with letters. He used the first syllables of a chant called ‘Ut queant laxis’ for each note in a scale. The syllables were ‘do, re, mi, fa, sol, la’. Sounds familiar?
- The whole recording system was revolutionized with the invention of the printing press, by Johannes Gutemberg, in 1440.
- Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings (1490-1517) are famous for being both innovative and mysterious. His diagrams cover the subjects of civil engineering, optics, hydrodynamics, and anatomy, the most iconic one being, perhaps, the Vitruvian man.
- The first graphic ever printed on a newspaper was a war map appeared on the Daily Post. From that moment on, maps became mainstream.
- In 1786, William Playfair presented the world with one of the most used tools to represent numerical information nowadays: Statistical Graphs. Thank you Will!
- In 1806 The London Times published an illustration showing lots of facts associated to the murder of Mr. Blight. The image showed the house from the outside, along with a floor plan, and the events in chronological order.
- The Coxcomb diagram by Florence Nightingale in 1857 served to change the course of history and save lots of lives in Queen Victoria’s times.
- In 1924 Otto Neurath created Isotype, a symbolic way of representing quantitative information through icons.
- In 1933 Harry Beck created the first London’s Tube Map making a great introduction of visual diagrams into our daily life.
- Otl Aicher created in 1972 a set of elegant and clear pictograms of each sport played during the Munich Olympics.
- Edward Tufte, the father of data visualization, created a seminar about statistical graphics in 1975. He also created the term Data-Ink ratio to criticize the excessive use of graphic elements when presenting data.
All this contributions made by this and more incredible people have lead us into a useful and essential tool used today to help people process precise information about their topics of interest: Infographics.
Chances are, as long as we have the need to communicate, learn and leave proof of our existence, we’ll keep on drawing.
“The idea of trying to create things that last – forever knowledge – has guided my work for a long time now”.