Pre-computer era data graphics

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Anthony Noel's picture
Joined: 19 Oct 2004 - 5:58am
Pre-computer era data graphics


I'm curious as to what charts and graphs looked like before computers were around to create them. I'm less interested in the how than in the style, or even if data was presented graphically at all. Could it be that we only have pie-charts because, all of a sudden, Xcel appeared and allowed us to do it?

While there seems to be plenty of examples of pre-digital era typography, photography, cartography or any other kind of '-ography', data design is almost non-existant (in my knowledge at least, I realise this could be my failing, not the graphic world's)

Does anyone have any examples of data graphics, or any kind of history of this aspect of graphic design?


(Sorry, I realise this isn't typography as such, but is rather a related discipline.)

Vincent Connare's picture
Joined: 6 May 2005 - 4:33am
Frederick Yocum's picture
Joined: 13 Dec 2005 - 3:12pm

I can't really recommend any direct sources, but the work of Edward Tufte may take you in the right direction

His area of expertise is the visual display of information and he works from historical as well as contemporary examples. His writing is a must for anyone who needs to display information visually.

Gary Campbell's picture
Joined: 16 Aug 2005 - 8:17am

You could probably do well to pick up a bunch of old National Geographic magazines. Some beautiful infographics in their early (pre-computer) issues.

Seeing the Edward Tufte work that's already been suggested certainly reminded me of NG... and you can usually find a stack of them for cheap at a local thrift store.

James Montalbano's picture
Joined: 18 Jun 2003 - 11:00am

If you are going to look at Tufte, you must view the other side and look at Nigel Holmes.
His website features his more up-to-date computer based work, but his work for Time magazine in the late 70s and 80s set the standard for modern illustrative info-graphics. Tufte has called him a chartoonist, and dismisses his approach, and you will have to speak with Nigel to get his opinion on Tufte. Still there is alot more of Holmes work out there in the work-a-day world than there is Tufte's.

Chris Lozos's picture
Joined: 25 Feb 2004 - 11:00am

We did thousands of charts and graphs before computers. It took longer drawing the line work by hand (ruling pen and compass). We used Amberilth or Rubylith film to cut layers of color and tone separations for camera.
In those days, if someone came back with data changes, you charged them an arm and a leg so there was less of the hourly changes of data than there is today. Look mat any annual reports done pre 1986 and you will see.
The big difference was that because it was laborious, it was not overdone as it tends to be today.