Capstone Speaker: Nigel Holmes
Explanation Graphics

When to Draw the Line (and when not to)

The right interaction between words and pictures in information and explanatory graphics is the challenge for an information graphic designer. What's the best way to make an efficient aesthetic mix of the visual and the verbal, while explaining a story, a medical procedure, or a scientific theory? When is humor appropriate? And why does technology too often get in the way of clear image-making?

Nigel Holmes does explanation graphics. In 1966, he graduated from The Royal College of Art, in London, and ran his own graphic design studio in England until 1977, when Walter Bernard hired him to work at Time Magazine in New York.
As Graphics Director of Time, his pictorial explanations of complex subjects gained him many imitators and a few academic enemies. But he remains committed to the power of pictures and humor to help readers understand otherwise abstract numbers and difficult scientific concepts.
After 16 years, Time gave him a sabbatical, and he never went back. Now he has his own company, which has explained things to and for a wide variety of clients, including Apple, Fortune, Nike, The Smithsonian Institution, Sony, United Healthcare, US Airways and Visa, and he continues to do graphics for publications such as Discover, Harper's, On Earth (NRDC), The New Yorker and The New York Times.
Nigel Holmes has written four books on aspects of information design, and also a series of really small books, The Smallest Ever Guides for Busy People, which explain difficult concepts in layman's terms. The first was about the Internet and was based on lectures he gave to Fortune 500 executives (very busy people). It's now in its 7th US edition. This was followed by The Smallest Ever Guide to Life Sciences (together with Juan Enriquez of Harvard University), and The Smallest Ever Guide to The Hydrogen Economy, for General Motors. His new book, Wordless Diagrams, was published by Bloomsbury in April 2005.
Other book projects, in collaboration with Richard Saul Wurman, have included highly graphic medical handbooks about Diagnostic Tests for Men and Women, Understanding USA, Understanding Children, and Understanding Healthcare. With his son, Rowland, he produces short animated films.
He has lectured in India, Japan, Brazil, Singapore, and all over Europe and the United States, including at the Stanford University Publishing Course every year since 1980, and the Poynter Institute for Media Studies since 1983.