A couple of years ago I found myself trying to work out why I’m such an avid visual thinker. Is it nature, nurture or both?
To tackle the nurture question (addressing nature seems altogether tougher) I worked back through my early memories, trying to recall early thoughts, experience and ideas. Other than an obsession with Lego (I spent hours and hours designing, building, creating – probably a portent on both software engineering and entrepreneurial tendencies), I was struggling to determine any specific events. I thought about books – the earliest I can recall was Richard Scarry’s “What Do People Do All Day” (very visual) – and then it hit me.
Of course! I had spent hours, days, whole weekends poring over the facts, visual tables (think ordered bar charts) and incredible illustrations. I learned about the humongously large, the minutely small, the fleetingly fast, the loftily tall, the weightily heavy, the gossamer light and the unfathomably deep – animals, plants, planets, people, man-made structures, machines and devices. It was an incredibly memorable way to learn about the world: how a species of worm was over 33ft long and would stretch across 40+ pages; how a man had ridden a bike at over 200mph behind a huge spoiler fixed to a car; and how tsunamis taller than the Eiffel tower were possible… and no, I haven’t just looked those up – they are indelibly etched in my visual memory.
So, having remembered the book (and purchased a copy for my kids), I decided to find out about the people behind the book – The Diagram Group. From here I discovered Bruce Robertson – the editor at the time – and then the power of GMail connected me with him. After a few attempts to coax a lunch/interview with him, I’m set to meet him in person later this month. I can’t wait. We spoke on the phone earlier this week, and he started rolling out anecdotes about his time at ICI, working on infographics for the company newsletter, preparing visuals for government reports and set me to work on discovering the work of Otto Neurath. This last element is a fantastic example of synchronicity; I had never heard of Neurath when Bruce mentioned him, and then the same evening I discovered his work – and its impact – in Alberto Cairo’s recent book “The Functional Art” (also highly recommended).
“Words make division, pictures make connections…” – Otto Neurath
So expect another post by the end of the month, reporting on Bruce’s history of The Book and – undoubtedly – a collection of amusing anecdotes. Somehow, I think that meeting this hero will prove fascinating, enlightening and highly entertaining…