Infographics in Germany

The history of infographics in Germany is more closely tied to education than to the news media. The country's main syndicated infographics agency, Globus, was founded on 27 June 1946, just after the Second World War and had a large business supplying both textbook publishers and schools with maps and graphics. Its early hand-drawn work merits attention by everyone interested in data visualization history.

This month, Globus (now a subsidiary of dpa-infografik GmbH, part of the dpa news group -- statement of interest: dpa is my employer) is marking its 70th anniversary by re-releasing in its weekly packages for educational subscribers some of its early work. The media release today includes samples that reward a closer look, both for their focussed design and their historical circumstances.

The first dates from 1947 and neatly tells you how Allied-occupied Four-Zone Germany had gone from a housing stock of 18 million units when Hitler's war started to just 8 million. This was because 4.5 million apartments and homes had been lost to bombing, fire and other war effects, 3 million were left behind in the new territory of Poland and 2.5 million were so damaged as to be uninhabitable in winter.
Image: obs/dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH
Great graphics use seemingly simple means to index numbers visually. In this case, the increased density per home is indexed by queues of apartment-seeking renters at each door that are similar in expanse, but more dense at the right. This is graphically viscous, but a closer match to what the numbers represent in real life: overcrowding. An amusing touch is the girl at left representing 0.8 and the arm-pulling child at right for 0.2. In 1947 the people are thinner and clothes shabbier, which is the way the postwar was. A Second World War veteran has only one leg.

In the bottom half is a stacked bar chart in the horizontal, which began  in the artist's mind like this:

What he or she did was to translate it into a row of gabled houses like those you see in old German towns, or perhaps like the cottages on a German housing estate. It's a neat way of enlivening the graphic and while some would argue it breaches Edward Tufte's data ink rule, I think it's just right, and suits the black-and-white line-drawing style perfectly.

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