Henry Ford was wrong: history isn't bunk. Thanks to Larry Gormley and Bill Younker, history is beautiful.
I had a great call a couple days ago with Larry of historyshots.com. Larry told me about how he and his business partner Bill have spent most of the past five years striving to make history look better. And have they ever succeeded.
Their collection of "Information-intense graphics posters" takes history buffs on visually spectacular tours of eras from the American Civil War to WWII, from the PGA tour to the moon race (my personal favorite -- my scary hobby site shows why), and from the long, slow ascent of Mount Everest to the long, slow descent of American political parties. With eight posters available for sale online now, and four more in the pipeline, their shop is aiming straight at the intersection of history, mapping, information design and art. It's beautiful work.
Improving history takes a long time: Larry said that it takes up to nine months to create each chart, and given the detail in them, that is not surprising. Research takes much of that time, and the rest is spent on working through enough design solution options to: 1) make sure the story is being told in the clearest way they can find; 2) layer the maximum amount of data possible; and 3) remove just the right amount to keep things legible.
For Larry, the holy grail of information design (this won't come as a surprise to anyone working with complex data presentation challenges) is how to present multiple information dimensions within a single image without overwhelming the viewer. They've tried a couple different approaches in their posters, and (in my opinion) some work better than others. In their WWII image, chronology, geography and quantity are superimposed wonderfully. In the Everest chart though, I find it takes a while to figure out what's going on, and even then it feels like a potentially clearer presentation model is right around the corner. On the other hand, this is one of the most visually unique of all the charts -- and that intrigued me enough to take the effort to grok it.
Note: Having myself drunk the ET Kool-Aid, I was glad to hear that Larry was also inspired by Minard's iconic information display masterpiece. Even after looking at it from a million different angles, it is still the perfect chart.