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They may feel like a modern phenomenon, but really, they’re not.

If you found yourself a time machine and journeyed back through the mists, you’d see that infographics have essentially always been with us. They were there on cave walls in 30,000 BC when the first humans emerged from the mire and took notes on the beasts and feasts that surrounded them. They were there 25,000 years or so later when the ancient Egyptians mastered the art of “hieroglyphics” – or when the Mayans, or the Aztecs, or the Cretans all perfected their own versions too.

As the planet span and decades became centuries, people started to recognise that the world was vast and sprawling, and to keep up with it they documented their discoveries on hand-drawn infographics known as “maps” - noting where land turned to sea, where mountains suddenly emerged from the fields, where they might one day put a massive Sainsburys. Then, hundreds of years later, in the 18th Century, the Scotsman William Playfair published The Commercial and Political Atlas, which featured graphs, pie charts, and other such mind-dazzling concoctions.

Soon after, political parties began looking for more digestible ways to express important information that wouldn’t overly discombobulate their voters. In 1972, Otl Aicher designed
a set of ground-breaking pictograms used for the Munich Olympics. Ten years later, in 1982, Edward Tufte, a master in the art of data visualisation, released his first much-lauded self-publication,
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, followed soon after by Envisioning Information – another magnificent ode to infographics (and both very much worth tracking down for a butchers).

Now infographics are everywhere, they’re commonplace. In newspapers, on road signs. You’ll find them on restaurant menus, in gymnasiums, if you look to your left right now there might be one staring back at you (you never know!). They say a good picture can paint a thousand words, but a good infographic can go even further than that. It can span generations, track the entire evolution of mankind, assess the habitual behaviour of a million people, or even accurately predict the future.

 

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