Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Book - Informotion

Infographics are everywhere and a lot of development both in therms of technology and style has gone into the representation of information in the last few years. It is however an old topic and through out the past century aspects of graphics, design and technology in regards to the presentation of data and information were developed.

The Gestalt Theory (Detailed article in the German Wikipedia) was developed in the early 20s of the last century or Tufte (earlier on urbanTick) wrote his much influential books in the 80s and 90s to name two.

Image taken from the189.com / Informotion project by Bryan Ku docuemnting the final game in the 122nd edition of the Wimbeldon Championship Men's Final between tennis giants Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. See the animated version HERE.

The reason for some more recent development in information design and especially and especially handling is connected to technological and practical changes, but also the increased availability of raw data and details to be turned into information graphics.

Often however the subject to the data is temporal or process based with need for background or lead in, change of place or frequent change of perspective. For these cases animated inforgraphics can be a great way to communicate knowledge. Besides who doesn't like to look at motion pictures? It really fits in with the whole TV consuming sort of urban lifestyle.

Its pretty save to say, that for the first time the book Informotion: Animated Infographics by Gestalten bring together a selection of the best motion picture graphics communicating knowledge. All of the examples are very recent projects and most can be found on either vimeo or youtube of course. However the interesting bit on the book is the context the examples are being put in. The editors Tim Finke and Sebastian Manger put great emphasis on contextual details in a wider sense. Where publications like the recent Taschen Infographics are a mere selection of great examples the Informotion book includes the theoretical and practical aspects too.

This of course makes the book heavier to read, it's also but not only to look at, but you get a lot more out of it for your practice. Besides inspiration the book provides a refresh and update on the graphic, visual and design theories as well as the technical details of animation production such as software, storyboards or size, resolution or format.

Image taken from binalogue.com / Images showing the page spread design. The example shown here is an animated infographic by binalogue showing the CANAL Isabel II water cycle. See video below for the original animation.

There is also one of the aNCL (animated New City Landscape) informmotion graphics included as anexample in the book (p.188-189). It is the animation produced in collaboration between urbanTick and Anders Johansson on the Twitter landscape in the area arond the city of Zuerich in Switzerland. The original post on the animation can be found here, the animation is below.

Of course there is something awkward about a printed book about animated examples. However the content lives up to the expectations and whilst the animations can not be shown in the book the story can still be told. Even more so that the examples are discussed in detail and help to illustrate the theoretical elements of the book. In this sense there is literally more to the book than just the pictures and lines of text there is actual information in there plus Gestalten have a website where readers can get additional info and links to the animations. The list of examples can be found HERE.

Image taken from Gestalten / Book cover.

Finke, T. & Manger, S. eds., 2012. Informotion: Animated Infographics, Berlin: Gestalten.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Book - Food for the City

Everybody needs to eat. Eating and sleeping are two of the very fundamental repetitive necessities of life. There is no going without it for longer periods of time. Food needs to be accessible on a regular basis continuously. This is as such already a spatial condition that forms part of the spatial organisation pattern of settlements. For cities where a large number of people live in a relatively small area this means its a basic element that needs to be integrated to supply this demand.

No easy task to feed a million people who generally do not contribute a single carrot, nor potato, salad, nor tomato, nor wheat, nor anything to their own daily need. Every single aspect of food has to be provided through specialists trading for something. The specialisation has gone this far as to that there is no way any of the structures would survive without the others and supplying food is one of the fundamental aspects of forming densely inhabited settlements.

Image taken from stroom / Wheatfield - A Confrontation by the American artist Agnes Denes, 1982 in the middle of New York.

Its nothing new, this has been an aspect of settlements and cities for as long as they exist, however with site and degree of specialisation of its inhabitants the task has become more complex. Today we are as far detached from the food we eat as to not knowing where it comes from or how it is produced. We are the generation for whom everything simply comes from the supermarket shelf as if it would grow there. The rest of the supply chain and especially the origin of products as simple as apple, bread or milk is a mystery. Do potatoes grow on bushes, is milk a product of vegetables and monkey nuts are roots?

In a recent NAi Publishers / Stroom Den Haag publication Food for the City: A Future for the Metropolis this topic of the food supply chain and the various connected aspect in regards not the city are discussed. In 13 show essays a range of views from food production to food delivery to food processing and food consumption are in detail presented. The core element is a continuous photo essay documenting and illustrating the topic in a wider context.

Food has become part of the wider discussion surrounding cities in the wake of environmental consciousness and the push for sustainability. It has become clear that even though the food supply chain has disappeared from the daily business of the individual citizen it is a major task requiring a lot of resources. From the production, to transportation, to storage, to recycling food requires energy. On the other hand the modern food chain poses high risks and requires a level of security.

Image taken from foodprint / Michiko Nitta en Michael Burton, Algaculture, early works.

The essays in the publication, most of which focus on a specific aspic or case study imply wider application to other situations and a such can be read in combination or in multiple contexts. With this the publication is seeking to cover the topic more widely. There is the Industrialist proposing a new paradigm for 2050 to feed the world, the chef finds answers in the rubble of Haiti, the farmer writes on how to think out of the box, the technologist of course solves the problem of food production and the architect discusses the food network in arctic communities.

Whilst the topics are very interesting and definitely timely the essays each are very short and only really give an overview of the topic. Little goes deep and brings up questions or proposals that would affect the reader as individual. A bit disappointing really is how the title of the publication is misleading the reader to believe the publication is on cities. The is little to no taking about urban structures beyond the broader assumption as that if in 2050 75% of the worlds population lives in urban areas any talking about food is talking about cities.

Nevertheless the topic is very uptodate and something that has been neglected by the broader discussion for a while. The basic food supply definitely is and poses a range of problem in many ways for the metropolis and will even more so in the future. The problems are not only production, as the publication points out if the population grows at this rate by 2050 a number of additional planets would be necessary to produce the required amount of food, but also there are sustainability problems health problems and cultural problems emerging. The discussion is launched.

Image taken from Wietske Maas / Book cover Food for the City: A Future for the Metropolis.

van der Sande, B. ed., 2012. Food for the City - A Future for the Metropolis, Rotterdam: NAI Publishers.