The art of Infographics: Hierarchy

Excellence in statistical graphics consists of complex ideas communicated with clarity, precision, and efficiency.
Edward Tufte

In their book “Information graphics” author Sandra Rendgen and the editor Jullius Wiedemann tell stories about infographics and they show them in four different categories: Location, Time, Category, and Hierarchy.

The book documents the recent upswing of information graphics and data visualisation…. Information graphics are hybrids and hense difficult to define. Text, image and geometric shapes are indissolubly interlaced to produce single entities.

This article will is dedicated to Hierarchy in Infographics and I will try to show you some great examples…

Hierarchy or Visual Hierarchy is the order of the elements in the way that human eye perceives them or all the elements ranked in order of priority.

“Hierarchies are vertical arrangements. Elements are sorted in order of rank, from largest to smallest, highest to lowest, and so on. In a linear hierarchy, e.g. ranking there is for each element a superior and a subordinate element, and the rank order results in a continuous sequence.”


Ballooning CEO Salaries and Mass Layoffs

The Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., researched into CEO salaries during the recession of 2008-2010. Results of this study show that those CEOs who have cut the most jobs received 42% more compensation than CEOs on the US average.

The graphic takes a look at the top 10 recession lay-off leaders and how much the CEO received compared to how many people were laid off. The balloon size shows the amount of CEO compensation, the height it floats at indicates the company’s revenue, whilst the little silhouettes falling overboard correspond to the number of job cut.

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Project info: Meet the Boss, for GDS International website, 2010, UK
Data Source: Institute of Policy Studies:”CEO Pay and the Great Recession, 17th Annual Executive Compensation Survey”
Design: Tiffany Farrant-Gonzalez


Fast Faust

Fast Faust is a straight hierarchy. It contains all the words Johann Wolfgang von Goethe used in the first part of his famous tragedy Faust, sorted and scaled by the frequency of their use throughout the play. The most frequent word “und” (and) occurs 918 times. Since this is a classical German Literature, the most frequent nouns are “Geist” (mind) and “Welt” (world).

Developed in 2000, the piece anticipated the principle of tag clouds, which later became a prominent feature of web 2.0. As it was hardly possible to translate the frequency of words into exact point sizes for the letter, Boris Muller used logarithmic scaling to show the relative frequency of each word.


Project info: Poster, 2000, Germany
Design: Boris Muller


The Very Many Varieties of Beer

Beer belongs amongst the most popular drinks on Earth, and there seem to be a million philosophies as to as to how to brew it. Team Pop Chart Lab employ the rather dull scientific scheme of a taxonomy and turn it into a chart of great use in everyday life: a taxonomy of beer type.

While presenting a hierarchy, the types are not arranged in a tree. Instead, the most general type, “beer”, is placed in the middle, and the sub-types branch out from there. All types and sub-types are presented in a circle, whilst specific examples for each type are name in simple lettering.


Project info: Poster, 2010, USA
Design: Ben Gibson, Patrick Mulligan (Pop Chart Lab)


Tracking Carbon Emissions

The graphic shows CO2 emissions for some 200 nations worldwide.  Relative quantities are represented by bubble size.  The bubbles on the left show the absolute quantity of emissions per nation, with China and the US being the number one emission sources.  The graphic on the right relate s emissions to the number of inhabitants, which presents a different picture.

Tiny nations like Gibraltar of the Virgin Islands top this second list as they need to have a lot of goods shipper in, which increases relative emissions per capita. The “footprint” refers to the concept of the ecological footprint, which allows people to quantify the environmental impact of their own lifestyle.


Project info: Miller-McCune, magazine and online articles, 2010, USA
Data source: US Energy Information Administration
Design: Stanford Kay


Monkeys and Typewriters

This is a variation on the so-called “Infinite Monkey Theorem”. As a thought experiment, the theorem is used to establish the conceivability of infinity through an image: a monkey randomly hitting keys on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will – at some point – type any given text, such as the complete works of Shakespeare.

Østring humorously refers to this theorem and makes up events which could also happen, but which are never mentioned: the monkey could be interrupted or he might eat the manuscript. The probability of these events is charted in percentages around the center. The bar diagram at the very bottom plays with the notion of parallel universes.


Project info: Website, 2009, Norway
Design: Ole Østring


Food poisoning

This piece shows cases of food poisoning in the US since 1990, as caused by the foods like vegetables, milk and cheese, seafood or eggs. In a pleasant dinner-setting, which doesn’t fail to suggest images of the Last Supper, each of the foods is shown on a table with a glass of liquid behind it. Quantities on the plates and in the glasses refer to the number of outbreaks and the number of cases.


Project info: Good, website, 2010, USA
Data Source: The center of Science in the Public Interest
Design: Chris Korbey
Editors Morgan Clendanies, Atley Kasky


Gas Composition

Like the encounter of a nostalgic postcard with the periodic table of elements:  this piece lists the composition of gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. The black and white image shows two young ladies holding a bouquet of balloons.

Coloured circles float through the image like bubbles of gas, whilst typographic information provides data about constituent gases in normal air and the percentage of their concentration. The piece works like a display board to assist with memorising the composition of the atmosphere.


Project info: Website, 2009, France
Design: Stephane Massa-Bidal (Retrofuturs)


Near Earth Objects

Near-Earth-Objects are asteroids, comets and meteoroids, which come into a close proximity to the Earth when orbiting the Sun. These objects are observed by astronomers for the potential danger of a collision with Earth. The unit for measuring the proximity of such an object is an “astronomic unit”, which equals the distance between Sun and Earth.

The graphic shows those near-Earth objects which are bigger than 100 m in diameter and have, or will approach closest to us. Sorted according to their distance from Earth, asteroid 1999 AN 10 is listed as the closest to approach, set for August 2027. Each object’s size is listed by diameter, whilst below, the same objects are listed with the exact date of their closest approach.


Project info: Website, 2010, USA
Data Source: National Space Science Data Center; national Aeronautics and Space Administration
Design:Zachary Vabolis


Super Vision Chart

This chart was designed for the book “Super Vision: A New View of nature in 2003”. The book shows scientific images that span the world of phenomena from subatomic particles to the biggest structures in the universe and explains the technology necessary to perceive and represent these structures.

The chart helps illustrate the relative sizes of the objects documented in the book. Size dimensions are represented as sequential powers of 10m, shown in order from smallest to largest, broken down into colour-coded groups. For each group of powers, a quadratic grid indicates the full scale of the group’s biggest size in order to demonstrate the neighbouring smaller sizes.


Project info: Super Vision: A New View of Nature, book, Harry N. Abrams, 2003,USA
Design: Agnieszka Gasparska (Kiss me I;m Polish)
Creative Direction: Michael Walsh, Harry N. Abrams
Book Design: Helene Silverman



World of hundred

The series refers to the popular concept of imaging the world as a village of 100 people. It allows global population statistics to be presented scaled down to a total population of 100 people. The image seems to appeal to people’s imagination and breaks the imaginable global figures down to a human scale.

Toby NG translated the statistical information into a series of posters, each explaining one fact. One major topic is the composition of a global population in terms of age or gender or religion. Another strand addresses access to material and non-material good such as education, clean air, water, computers etc. Each diagram is centered around an icon symbolizing the respective topic.


Project info:Series of posters, 2008, China
Data Source: If the World Were a Village, David J. Smith, Kids Can Press
Design: Toby Ng
Awards: Red Dot Award 2009; GDC 09 Awards; International Design Awards 2009; HOW 2010 International Design Awards

If you are curious to learn more about infographics and see many great examples you can have a look at Information Graphics book.

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