VC Book Cover

Posted: October 10th, 2011 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Many readers of Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information have been wondering about the cover design and its underlying meaning. Since there’s no information about the piece in the book, primarily due to an oversight that will be fixed in a following edition, here’s a bit of an explanation.

I always wanted to feature a visualization or bespoken illustration in the cover, and it would have to be something related to the book and its content. Talking to a friend of mine a while back, the idea of creating a piece based on the book’s body of text came up. I thought that was definitely the way to go and started looking closely at some of my favorite textual visualizations out there.

It took me a while to decide on the appropriate style and method I wanted to feature, but then I payed a closer look at the amazing work of Boris Müller. For those who are not familiar with his work, Boris has created many great projects in the past, including Connected Communities and Knowledge Maps. But I have always been particularly impressed by his remarkable Poetry on the Road series. Since 2002, Boris has been commissioned to design a visual theme for the Poetry on the Road international literature festival, which is held every year in Bremen, Germany. For the various editions of the festival, Boris has created a poster with rich visual graphics generated by a computer program that turns selected poems of the participants into striking compositions. Every year has a different theme, and some are truly outstanding (e.g. 20032006).

When I approached Boris to do something similar for the cover of Visual Complexity he was immediately on board. He ended up providing a simple java app that could be used with any text to generate a similar visual output to the one he created for Poetry 2008. I started playing around with it and this was the very first set of experiments:

There was still no information on the cover, it was pure visual exploration at this stage. I started by depicting individual chapters, simply because it was more manageable and easier to grasp the type of outcome provided by the app. Below is a second group of tryouts using different colors and including the title and author’s name.

In order to reveal a bit more diversity, we also explored different colors in the same composition and one unique visualization featuring all seven chapters of the book.

Finally, and after a long discussion between myself and the design and marketing departments at Princeton Architectural Press, we finally agreed on the last version of the cover, this one including the entire seven chapters, or roughly 35,558 words. The final printed outcome has exceeded my expectations and sometimes it is easy to forget how much time, sweat, love, and dedication goes into a book cover.

In case you are still wondering how everything works, here’s an extended description to be featured in a later edition of the book:

“Visualization featuring all 35,558 words displayed in the entire book, spread across its seven chapters. It was built by sorting all words based on their frequency in the text and representing them as lines. Lines are grouped in seven horizontal bands, representative of all chapters, from top to bottom, chapter 1 to chapter 7. Thicker lines depict most frequent words, which are placed on the left hand side of the diagram. As words are repeated across different chapters their lines flow vertically from one band to the other.”

Here is a close-up of the final product:

And the book being displayed in two bookstores in NYC, respectively Strand (left) and St. Mark’s (right):