Urban installations are really cool. They make you experience the city space in a whole new way. Ideally, they also teach or show you something. In collaboration with Graphic Matters Festival we created an Infographics Time Walk in Breda (NL). It introduces the most interesting historical infographics, using wonderful illustrations by Dutch designer Jan Hamstra.

Map of the Time Walk in Breda
This map shows the stretch of the Time Walk from Breda main station along Speelhuislaan to the festival’s location at Stokvishallen.

“Information Superpower” was the theme of the Graphic Matters festival in 2019. This included an extensive exhibition of contemporary data visualization, as well as a series of talks and workshops with experts from the field. Dennis Elbers, the founder and director of Graphic Matters, conjured up the concept of introducing the whole topic with an “Infographics Time Walk” which leads from the city’s main station to the festival area.

Dennis Elbers had suggested to consider this path as a timeline, along which we’ll present the most interesting infographics over the past 1000 years. I contributed a thorough selection of important works since the Middle Ages. Dennis measured the length of the Speelhuislaan and transformed it into a timeline of roughly 1,000 years, along which the individual works were positioned.

The Infographics Time Walk. The posters are for Emma Willard’s Picture of Nations (1836, front left), an organizational chart from the New York and Eeerie Railway (1855, middle ground right) and Charles-Joseph Minard’s Napoleon March (1869, middle ground left). Photo: Rob Lipsius / Graphic Matters

Dennis Elbers invited Jan Hamstra, a brilliant illustrator who has developed a unique visual style based on the technique of linocut type, to develop “narrative poster illustrations”, which would capture the story of each historical infographic. For instance, the Picture of Nations was created in 1836 by the American educator and activist Emma Willard (above left).

In his poster, Jan Hamstra created a visual story about Willard’s work, who has devoted her life to advancing the education of women, had founded several schools for girls and women, and who had – as a teacher – thoroughly considered how to improve teaching methods. In this context she has created several important visualizations which were meant to help students understand and memorize history.

The Infographics Time Walk. The posters are for W.E.B. Du Bois’ series of visualizations for the Paris World Expo (1900, front right), Erich Haeckel’s Artforms of Nature (1904, front left) and Harry Beck’s design for the London Tube Map (1833, middle ground right). Photo: Rob Lipsius / Graphic Matters

Another important contribution to the history of information graphics was provided by the sociologist and activist W.E.B. Du Bois and a team of students. They were invited to represent the status of the Afro-American population for the World Expo in Paris in 1900. For this exhibit, they created a series of hand-drawn visualizations (more on this project in this review). Du Bois is shown here in a profile portrait, with the series of posters behind his face (above right).

On their backside, the posters reproduced the original graphic and some background information. I love how Jan created a whole visual narrative to show the historical context in which each of these graphics were made. Each of them has a story about why they were created (e.g. to help students or to support a political campaign). Jan’s illustrations capture this very beautifully.

Many drafts of prints on the floor.
Illustrator Jan Hamstra with the whole series of drafts for the poster designs.

Jan Hamstra took this image during the intense creation process. The test prints on the floor show designs for the whole series of posters. Each of them contained a portrait of the author or designer that invented the infographic. I loved this glimpse into Jan’s workshop and intense creative process. During the festival, Jan and myself gave a guided tour along the Time Walk, which was very inspiring and enjoyable.

Thanks Dennis Elbers & Graphic Matters for the opportunity.

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