Design and Redesign
Fernanda & Martin

Thanks Fernanda and Martin — Design and Redesign added a new dimension to my data visualization practice.

While in Kevin Quealy’s D3 course at Metis this summer, I took inspiration from this post — specifically, Alberto Cairo’s redesign of Accurat’s “From First Published to Masterpieces” visualization. I thought, why not take my own swing at a “critique by redesign” and try to rework the same data that Accurat and Alberto Cairo had already developed?

Here I confess: I am one of those “It’s Probably Best as a Bar Graph” designers. Straightforward, clear, universally understood — that’s how I like my visualizations. Or at least, that was my perspective before I spent some time with the Modern Library data that Accurat so graciously shared.

I reached out to Giorgia Lupi and, lo and behold, she wrote back to me within hours and generously shared the whole dataset with which her team worked. Inside, I found much more data and analysis than I expected, a far deeper investigation of the data than the original visualization had revealed. I had hoped to experiment with the data and see if there wasn’t some correlation — between age and output, perhaps — that I could emphasize.

Here’s what I found.

Unfortunately, there was no silver bullet. Instantly, I imagined myself as the original designer of the graphic, also hoping to discover some story within the data and finding little to go on.

Armed with a newfound and overwhelming sense of empathy, I went ahead with visualizing the data, maintaining what worked well in the original, surfacing the same data while applying my own spin, including the new linear layout that Alberto Cairo suggested.

I love seeing which books each author wrote — I’m a sucker for detail text, especially text figures — and at the end of it all, I added some superfluous circles to the visualization. Sure, they’re ornamental, but they’re also beautiful and enticing. Isn’t that worth something, too?

I shared my work with Giorgia who was exceedingly complimentary and gracious. It felt great to share something with another designer, especially one who’s had a direct influence on my work. Shared understanding between two practitioners —and wasn’t that the point, all along?