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
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.