Kahn, a former gynecologist, ran with the man-as-machine analogy like nobody else. That analogy has some problems, of course, but it makes a good foundation for beginners learning about human anatomy (you know, for kids).
Learn more about Kahn here and more about Lederer’s piece here.
Looking at examples like the one above, a cut-away diagram of The Fantastic Four’s futuristic corporate headquarters, I defy anyone to argue that our current fascination with information graphics doesn’t originate, at least in part, from the kinds of schematic graphics like this that old comics routinely dealt in.
I’d go along with that. And like a good infographic popping in your RSS stream today, this stuff interrupted you, in a good way. You stopped and lingered. I need to go down to my basement archives for some evidence, but I think Mad Magazine deserves some credit/blame for the infographics glut, too. I’m thinking particularly of the two-page spreads showing a huge scene, with labels and such everywhere.
Here’s one more, which belong on the Explainist refrigerator:
(* for you non-comic-dorks, this was the title structure of nearly every mainstream article on comics between 1985 and 1995.)/i>
Major Goodwill score: on a recent trip, Jon Ryan found a clever 1985 pop-up book explaining how a personal computer works. I’m hereby challenging the pop-up tycoons out there to publish an updated laptop version.
Illustrator Scott Campbell’s cutaways aren’t exactly real explanations, but they appeal to the same part of the brain. This is also the brain section responsible for drawing elaborate space bases, I believe.
*These are the types of diagrams used in patents and other technical illustrations. Isometric, in this case, means a representation of a three-dimensional object in which lines that are parallel in the three-dimensional world are represented as parallel lines in a two-dimensional drawing. In other words, the style ignores the law of perspective that says parallel lines will appear to converge at the horizon line (as seen in Q-Bert and the Sims). Exploded means the individual pieces of an object are separated, so you can see how they all fit together (as seen in product assembly manuals).
Of all my worldly possessions, my car is the thing most in need of explaining. Like just about everybody, I don’t own anything else nearly as complicated, and don’t put nearly as much trust in any other machine. Every day, I count on all these intricate pieces banding together and keeping me alive as I zip along at ridiculous speeds. This is something that deserves to be fully understood.
United sort of ran out of steam when they applied exploded view to their Employee Scholars program — it’s just an un-technical drawing of a guy’s head with various objects in it that expand and grow labels/explanation when you roll over them. Kind of a let-down after all that awesome. Also, I wish they’d included some sort of permalink system inside the animation, because then I could be pointing you to the coolest parts of it.
And now, a musical interlude. This video from Norwegian band Röyksopp doesn’t exactly explain anything, but it uses the tools of good explanation to thrilling effect. And it illustrates nicely how much data, complexity and remarkable thinking flows through daily life.
The artistry is clearly awesome, but the delicious topping for me is that they bothered to make so much of this stuff accurate (or at least accuratish). For example, the escalator cutaway is highly detailed and right on the money, and it’s only onscreen for four seconds. There’s a good bit of playful exaggeration too — the parts of the ear are drawn correctly, but sound waves trigger a bouncier cartoon chain reaction than you would actually see.I’ve had a hand in building animated cutaway diagrams before — the type of thing that makes up only a few frames in this video — and fitting the details together is no small chore. Kudos to those responsible, the French production company H5, according to Wikipedia and others. (My kudos are way late, apparently. The video already won best video at the MTV Europe Music Awards, way back in 2002).
I found a bit of interesting chatter in the YouTube comments on the video. Several posters took it for granted that this was a depressing view of mundane modern life. I really don’t see it that way. Normally, I do get discouraged by musical montages of workers filing into offices or even families chaotically taking off in the morning (a staple of supposedly cheery breakfast treat ads). The notion that life is hectically repetitive for no discernible reason makes me queasy. But this video was actually uplifting to me.
For one thing, I love to be reminded that there is so much to learn about even incredibly ordinary stuff. After all, there aren’t really many boring things, just boring people. It’s good to turn on the awestruck wonder whenever you can. Also, I’m comforted by the idea that even though there’s a lot of complexity under the surface of everything, I could actually figure out what was going on if I took the time to sort through the detailed, readily available information. It’s the same comfort I get walking through the library or bookstore. I may not want to learn all about building construction at a particular moment, but it’s good to know I could pick up several books on the subject (and understand them) if I were so inclined. Nice to have signs that the roads are open.
PS: I intended this post to be pure praise, since 100% of our posts to date have had a bit of finger wagging in them, but I can’t ignore the bad splainin’ on both Röyksopp and H5’s Web sites.
Röyksopp greeted me only with this and an album promotion pop-up:
Which details did you need? Shoe size? Favorite Pop Tart flavor?
H5 gave me little more:
Very strange to have such dead-end home pages in this day and age.