Seeing with fresh eyes: The Infographic BibleBy Paul Laughlin
When I shared my review of Edward Tufte’s latest data visualisation book, “Seeing with fresh eyes”, I did not mention how his challenge reminded me of this Infographic Bible. A printed data visualisation achievement that David McCandless describes as “awesome and ambitious“.
So much data visualisation these days is digital, it can be easy to overlook the power of physical objects & printed data viz. Plus, when I shared Prof Tufte’s challenge for us to see with fresh eyes, I doubt many of you were thinking about revisiting the Bible.
Religious Studies at school may have been the last time you read the world’s best selling book. But, whatever your view of the Christian faith, I’m sure you can appreciate that the text of the Bible is challenging data. Many of us restrict our charts/graphs to visualising numbers & categories. Visualising text & qualitative data can feel a step too far. Add to that the sensitive nature of the content, volume of concepts, characters & text. However, the author Karen Sawrey has pulled off that feat with an engaging book that is well worth seeing.
Why Infographic Bible reading is recommended
My first reason for recommending this book is an example of the power of printed data viz. Leafing through it I am reminded of the power of a tangible product. It offers a physical tactile experience, especially at a slower pace. Each new page reveals a different graphic whilst also having a familiar layout & palette elements for continuity. If you have never produced a physical desirable object to communicate your insights or data viz, try it.
My second reason for recommending is the creativity of the infographics contained in this book. It should encourage readers to see new ways of visualising text, concepts & relationships. A chance to break free of the too-familiar common charts & try something new. Plus most of these graphics are communicating textual data & analysts or researchers see too few examples of how to do that well. No wonder it was award-winning.
Finally, I recommend this book following Edward Tufte’s challenges in “Seeing with fresh eyes“. In line with Tufte’s principles, Karen is led in her design by content. That is central to the design. Your eyes are drawn to the key content communicated in the Bible. She also avoids separating text, charts, images into different sections. They are brought together where they help communicate data. I hope this review helps open your eyes to the power of such boundary-crossing data viz design.
How do you structure a visualisation of the data in the Bible?
How indeed! That must have been quite a challenging start for Karen and her team. But I think the approach taken works well. Rather than be constrained to the book & chapter order in the Bible, Karen also brings in structure from concepts/theology, history and impact.
This results in the visual material being curated into chapters on:
- Introducing history, authors & structure of the Bible itself
- The Old Testament grouped by primary themes:
- God is Love (thematic)
- Created for relationship (Genesis)
- Relationship broken (Genesis)
- A rescue plan (history from Abraham to Judges)
- The plan rejected (history from kings & through prophets)
- Topics from Bible for today & parallels of OT in NT
- The New Testament grouped by sections/themes:
- Jesus comes (gospels)
- Starting over (Acts & the epistles)
- Relationship restored (Revelation)
- Today’s tally (breadth & volume of Bible publication today)
I think this structure works well with material that could easily defy easy summaries. It certainly allows for infographics that work well together. Karen also here introduces her use of consistent colours & iconography to aid navigation. Such discipline in graphic design can be key to ensuring a book like this is accessible.
Which infographics inspired you to be more creative?
First, let me encourage you to buy this work of data art rather than rely on my brief review. That said, I recommended this book as a way to be inspired to be more creative. So, what examples did I have in mind? Well, let me share my photos of some infographics that inspired me & could help others visualising textual data.
The plagues of Egypt meet snakes & ladders (p54)
This infographic is both playful (a key way to engage your audience) and represents lots of data prep to identify a matrix alignment of categories that matter most.
The sunshine of Solomon’s wealth uses radial for impact (p94)
I will normally always warn against radial charts. Harder to read accurately they often distract from the data to be compared. But this radial version of a unit chart to convey the sheer scale of Solomon’s wealth is aesthetically pleasing as well as enabling relative comparisons of scale. More effective than lists of numbers in the text.
Analysing the themes of Jesus’ teaching by volume of references (p150)
I’m sure Edward Tufte would approve of the data density ratio for this infographic. The grid visualizes, through the use of position, colour, symbol, reference number & bar charts, 6 dimensions of the textual data at once. Plus what is being shown to that depth of textual analysis of thousands of verses. Not quick to read but fascinating to explore.
Mapping the followers of Jesus, flow map meets network diagram (p188)
This infographic again reminded me of Tufte’s arguments for well-designed data paragraphs & tables. The light grey outline of a map of Europe act as context to both a relationship & movement network. So much data is communicated by an integrated table, colour coding, size of bubbles & flows on map. Whilst still appearing light & easy to consume.
What would you see differently in the Infographic Bible?
I hope the above, very subjective and limited selection has whetted your appetite. Both for this book and for tackling the challenge of visualising textual data. In any case, I encourage you to keep looking for opportunities to see things differently. To notice effective design & engaging ways of communicating information visually.
In another parallel with the approach Tufte took in “Seeing with fresh eyes“, Karen also uses visual summaries throughout the book. So, this includes the acknowledgements & index. So, let me close with this photo of the one page of that index, to give you another insight into the variety you can find in this infographic treat.
Hope that was enjoyable. I’d love to hear what you are seeing with fresh eyes in your life. I’ve been given a beautiful visual summary of world history, so I’ll have another data visualisation physical book to share soon.