Historical Context (Information Design)

Information design has been used since the existence of men. Some 40 000 years ago, information was communicated on wall cave using paintings. On this page are the most influential of information design or data visualisation in history comprising of Florence Nightingale with her ‘Diagram of Cause of Mortality’ (1857), Charles Minard’s Map of Napoleon’s Army’s Russian Campaign (1861) and Henry Beck’s Map of London Underground (1933).

Florence Nightingale: ‘Diagram of Cause of Mortality’ (1857)


Available at http://daily.captaindash.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Nightingale-mortality.jpg

Florence Nightingale had discovered that the majority of deaths in the Crimea were due to poor sanitation rather than casualties in battle. She wanted to persuade government for the need of better hygiene in hospitals.

She realised that just by looking at the numbers was unlikely to impress ministers. But once those numbers were translated into a picture  her ‘Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East’,  the message could not be ignored.

The circle is divided into 12 sectors representing the months of the year. All sectors are measured from the centres.

Red represents number of deaths from war injuries

Blue represents number of deaths caused by diseases due to poor sanitation

Black represents number of death due to other causes.

Charles Minard’s Map of Napoleon’s Army’s Russian Campaign (1861)


Available at http://oak-tree.us/images/Poster3-Napoleon.png

Charles Minard’s Map illustrates the movement of the army for the Napoleon’s Army’s Russian Campaign. It principally showed the spectacular decline in the number of men, from 422 000 to 10 000, in the army from the start of their journey and their way back. The illustration also showed four other variables altogether which were latitude and longitude, direction of movement, dates and temperature.

Henry Beck’s Map of London Underground (1933)


Available at http://www.geocities.ws/lhsoicher/images/1933a.jpg

Henry Becks, an electrical engineer, used only horizontal, vertical and 45 degrees coloured lines to draw the London Underground railway network showing all the stations along routes and intersecting stations between routes. The distance between stations has been evened as commuters are interested to know the next and preceeding stations on a route. Beck’s map has been very successful and it is being used worldwide today.


Mernagh, Michael (2012) Significance Magazine: Statistics making sense. Availabe at http://www.significancemagazine.org/details/webexclusive/2038005/Napoleons-Russian-Campaign—200-years-on.html [Accessed 10 Novenber 2012]

Woodbury, Henry (2008) Dynamic Diagrams: Designing for Understanding. Available at http://dd.dynamicdiagrams.com/2008/01/nightingales-rose/ [Accessed 10 Novenber 2012]

Cawley, Laurence (2012) London Underground map gets curves in lecturer’s design. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-19546145 [Accessed 11 Novenber 2012]

Tufte, Edward (2007) The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Connecticut: Graphics Press.

Iliinsky, Noah and Steele, Julie (2011) Designing Data Visualizations, USA: O’Reilly Media Inc.

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