I had the good fortune to be invited to speak at a workshop late last year at the ESAD design school in Valence France:
The workshop was titled sous le texte la carte: La visualisation du texte en cartographie. Although the title focused on text and cartography, the presentations were a bit broader, extending to visualization and other applications.
With regards to the workshop, there were a number of good presentations. However, my French isn’t great, so I wasn’t able to follow the discussions closely. Here’s a great slide regarding typography on historic french maps by Jean-Luc Arnaud (http://www.cartomundi.fr/site/#): note the use of different sizes, allcaps/lowercase and italics, to create an ordering of labels for use on different maps.
Jean Luc also presented some of his contemporary typographic maps. Not quite like Axis Maps that some readers may be familiar with, these maps superimpose text over other text and don’t repeat labels:
This was followed by a highly interesting presentation on the use of standardized symbols on shipping navigation maps by Anais Déal. Being important navigational aids, one would hope that these international symbols would be consistently implemented by various national map makers. Unfortunately, they are not. Here’s some examples:
Sophie Boiron and Pierre Huyghebaert showed some historic heavily labelled maps and then showed this fantastic typographic map they created. At a distance, it’s a map of Brussels (left). Zoomed way in, each block is a sentence of text (right):
I find this example particularly compelling from a text visualization perspective. One can imagine using the same technique with choropleth maps, cartograms, treemaps, hierarchical pies or any space filling visualization technique. At a macro level, the areas are highly visible and you can use color to indicate a thematic variable. At a micro level, you’ve got detailed text — not just labels, but the opportunity for explanations, descriptions, details and even a few icons.
Antoine Gelgon and Pierre Huyghebaert presented an extremely detailed analysis of all the variation in the lettering of the famous belgish comic Gaston, going deep into the technical constraints of pens that were used, touch-ups with whiteout and so on. Then, super interesting, they created a parametric font following the same approach as Don Knuth’s Metafont. The result is a variety of tweakable parameters to create computer-generated hand-lettered text for future comics and presumably merchandise:
The final presentation the very important topic of type legibility in visualizations and more broadly user interface design. Specifically, the design task was to revise the font used in displays in aircraft and air traffic control systems. The presentation showed a number of interfaces with various issues, such as low contrast, glare and other real-world operational issues with the existing displays:
Furthermore, the existing font had the potential for confusion as the displays often had codes that combined alphabetic characters with numeric characters. With detailed user testing, the design team identified the most confusable glyphs (e.g. B/8) and iteratively designed a new font to minimize these issues, suitable for use on industrial display screens even with low pixel density. The result is the font B612. A subset of the font is freely available for download (e.g. google fonts).
All-in-all, a highly relevant workshop to visualization dealing with text visualization issues ranging from interaction techniques, novel layouts, to parametric text, to type legibility. And, Valence is a pretty town, worth adding a stop if you’re visiting southern France. Here’s a couple of tourist photos of the market on Saturday morning and a typographic sculpture: