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):

The Syntax of a New Language (poster)

Posted: September 29th, 2011 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

In chapter five of Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information, entitled The Syntax of a New Language, I expose 15 visual methods for network visualization spread across 60 pages and 103 images. This chapter has been the result of several years of research and attentive review of more than 750 projects featured in

As stated in the intro paragraph of the chapter: “Despite this rich graphical diversity, many projects tend to follow noticeable trends and common principles, which in turn result in a type of emergent taxonomy. This embryonic and evolving taxonomy provides a portrait of the current state of the practice and reveals the initial building blocks shaping a new visual language.”

Here’s a link to the 3 posters created:
VC Book Posters

Functional Beauty

Posted: August 4th, 2011 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Functional beauty is an intrinsic formula of Nature; moreover, it’s an intrinsic formula of great designs, where both elements (function & aesthetics) are highly intertwined to the point of becoming indistinguishable. The discussion of one versus the other occurs primarily as an argument to cover poor designs, which tends to fail by not considering both elements as equal parts of the same equation.

The following quotes should be read as an ode to functional beauty, an enduring formula for great designs:

“The care for the beautiful leads us to the same selection as the care for the useful… The buildings we admire are those in which the architect has succeeded in proportioning the means to the end, in which the columns seem to carry the burdens imposed on them lightly and without effort.”

Henry Poincaré (1908)
“Moreover, the perfection of mathematical beauty is such, that whatsoever is most beautiful and regular is also found to be the most useful and excellent.”

D’Arcy Thompson - On Growth and Form (1917)
“The philosophical definition of beauty must set forth its purpose or function in the universe. The nature or constitution of beauty, then, can be only the combination of qualities fitted to bring about this end.”

Ethel D. Puffer
, The Philosophical Review, (1904)
“Pressing beyond a Kantian aesthetic of form and beauty, we might suggest an aesthetic of function. The art may have served a practical function for its original viewers, and the aesthetics of the art should then be related directly to that function - an aesthetic that encompasses the art’s ritual purpose for which it was created.”

Thomas Heyd and John Clegg, Aesthetics and Rock Art, (2005)
“Above all else, a visualization is beautiful when it is useful. A visualization is beautiful when it elegantly and appropriately makes the viewer think about the information organized in the visual display. A visualization is beautiful when it allows the viewer to gain insight and understanding into the information, especially when that information was not appreciated in some other form, such as written prose. A visualization is beautiful when the information is thoughtfully arranged in such a way that patterns and structures are revealed.”

David J. StaleyComputers, Visualization, and History (2002)
“All architecture is shelter, all great architecture is the design of space that contains, cuddles, exalts, or stimulates the persons in that space.

Philip Johnson

Tech Companies Interbreeding

Posted: July 29th, 2011 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Although some in the past have explored this highly interconnected system, in the last week there were three infographics depicting the interbreeding, intermingling, or cross-pollination (or any other biological metaphor) between the main tech companies shaping the current market.

Talent Traffic

Spawn of the Tech Giants

The Interconnected World of Tech Companies

VC Book - Table of Contents

Posted: July 28th, 2011 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Since the book is almost out in major bookstores across the globe (I’m told in the next 12 days - Aug 3 for, and considering several requests, here’s the Table of Contents of Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information (click image below for pdf):

The book is divided in seven chapters and I like to think of it almost as a symphony, with the first three chapters providing a foundational opening for the lavish visual burst of chapters 4 and 5 - the sonata’s allegro or vivace - immediately followed by its final cadence, “Complex Beauty” (perhaps my favorite chapter) and “Looking Ahead”. Here’s a bit on the book’s structure, as explained in the Introduction:

01 | The Tree of Life

The book opens with “Tree of Life,” an exploration of the sacred meaning of trees and their widespread use as a classification system over the centuries. It showcases an assortment of ancient representations — as predecessors of modern-day network diagrams — where the tree metaphor is used to visually convey a variety of topics, from theological events to an encyclopedia’s table of contents.

02 | Form Trees to Networks

The second chapter, “From Trees to Networks,” makes the case for a new network-based outlook on the world, one that is based on diversity, decentralization, and nonlinearity. It explores several instances — from the way we envision our cities to the way we organize information and decode our brain — where an alternative network model is replacing the hierarchical tree schema.

03 | Decoding Networks

Chapter three, “Decoding Networks,” delves into the science behind network thinking and network drawing, providing a short introduction to its main precursors and early milestones. It also takes a pragmatic and utilitarian look at network visualization, acknowledging its key functions and proposing a set of guiding principles aimed at improving existing methods and techniques.

04 | Infinite Interconnectedness

Following a series of functional recommendations for network visualization, chapter four, “Infinite Interconnectedness,” presents a large number of examples divided into fourteen popular subjects. From depictions of the blogosphere to representations of terrorist networks, chapter four highlights the truly complex connectedness of modern times.

05 | The Syntax of a New Language

If chapter four looks at the practice primarily through its most common themes, chapter five, “The Syntax of a New Language,” organizes a vast array of projects by their shared visual layouts and configurations. As designers, scientists, and researchers across the globe portray an increasing number of network structures in innovative ways, their collective effort forms the building blocks of a new network-visualization lexicon.

06 | Complex Beauty

After presenting an abundance of network-visualization examples in chapters four and five, chapter six, “Complex Beauty,” examines the alluring nature of networks, responsible for a considerable shift in our culture and society. Alternating between scientific and artistic viewpoints, this chapter explores the divide between order and complexity before culminating in a discussion of an original art movement embracing the newly discovered beauty of the network scheme.

07 | Looking Ahead

Finally, and in the spirit of network diversity and decentralization, “Looking Ahead,” the last chapter, presents different views on the influential growth of visualization, according to renowned experts, active participants, and attentive observers. The featured essays cover an array of trends and technologies shaping the progress of visualization and provide an immensely captivating perspective on what may lie ahead.

Book has arrived!

Posted: July 1st, 2011 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Look what just came in my mailbox today. It’s an incredible feeling. Very exciting indeed. It arrived sooner than expected. It will take a bit longer before it reaches bookstores, but here’s a sneak peek.

Superlinear Scaling

Posted: June 7th, 2011 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

I first read about the work of Geoffrey West on “superlinear scaling” in Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From. West is a British theoretical physicist, former president and distinguished professor of the Santa Fe Institute. His long-term fascination in scaling phenomena led him to look for universal scaling laws that pervade not only biology, from the molecular genomic scale up to whole organisms and ecosystems, but also social structures, in particular cities and companies.

Just yesterday I was glued to my laptop screen for 52 minutes, listening to West’s fascinating monologue on the underlying principles that govern biological, urban, and business growth. His talk from Edge magazine is truly captivating, delivering a convincing framework for universal scaling. Here are two short passages by West:

I think this is very much science of the 21st century, because it is the kind of problem that scientists have ignored. It is under the umbrella of a complex adaptive system and we need to come to terms with understanding the structure and dynamics and organization of such systems because they’re the ones that determine our lives and our extraordinary phenomenon that we have developed on this planet.

[Cities] are the origin of the problems, but they are the origin of the solutions. And we need to come to terms with that, and we need to understand how cities work in a more scientific framework, meaning to what extent can we make it into a quantitative predictive, mathematizible kind of science.

Left Brain vs Right Brain

Posted: February 27th, 2011 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

I continue to be utterly fascinated by Amira Skomorowska’s tweets, notes, posts, and findings. Here is one of the many absorbing finds:

Left brain: I am the left brain. I am a scientist. A mathematician. I love the familiar. I categorize. I am accurate. Linear. Analytical. Strategic. I am practical. Always in control. A master of words and language. Realistic. I calculate equations and play with numbers. I am order. I am logic. I know exactly who I am.

Right brain: I am the right brain. I am creativity. A free spirit. I am passion. Yearning. Sensuality. I am the sound of roaring laughter. I am taste. The feeling of sand beneath bare feat. I am movement. Vivid colors. I am the urge to paint on an empty canvas. I am boundless imagination. Art. Poetry. I sense. I feel. I am everything I wanted to be.

VC Book available for pre-order

Posted: January 26th, 2011 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

It’s been more than a year since I started this long exciting journey, 17 months to be precise, and I’m very happy to announce today that the book is finally available for pre-order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones (amongst others). With a foreword by Lev Manovich, VisualComplexity: Mapping Patterns of Information is a deep dive into two major disciplines that witnessed a meteoric rise in the last decade: network science and information visualization.

The book is far more than a showcase of In fact, around one third of the estimated 300 featured images have never been showcased on the website. Due to its broader scope, it does actually seem that the website emerged from the book, other than the other way around. The book yields a comprehensive view on the visual representation of networks, delving into historical precedents (with some beautiful medieval imagery), various contemporary subjects and methods, and a range of future prospects. It looks at the depiction of networks from a practical and functional perspective, as a key driver for understanding the complex connectedness of modern society, but also explores the alluring qualities of the network schema, responsible for a considerable shift in contemporary art and culture. Divided in 7 chapters the book is ultimately a testimony to the enthralling power of networks and visualization.

In July 2009 while still working for Nokia I signed a contract with Princeton Architectural Press, for what would be one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I was immediately concerned with the deadline ahead of me, since I knew how much needed to be done. On Saturday, July 25, when riding the train back home from TEDGlobal in Oxford, UK, and after being inspired by every single person and story in that conference, I quickly decided the only possible way I could accomplish the book was to embrace it full-time. The following Monday I communicated my decision to Nokia and in late-August I left the company.

What followed were months of hard, intense work, countless hours, more than 1200 emails, and many ups and downs. I had an idea it wouldn’t be that easy, but I never expected it to be so hard. I guess it doesn’t help when you’re too meticulous, self-critical and demanding. A lot has changed in my life since then. I got married only a few months after, and more recently started a new job, moved to a different city in a different country. Coincidentally I’m now living a few blocks from Princeton Architectural Press, a publisher I came to care and respect like no other. The last couple of months have also been very rewarding, since you finally see all loose pieces of the book come together into a coherent whole with a unique personality.

There’s a lot more to say, and I promise I will keep posting more updates, interesting facts, page samples, final cover design, and related events in the coming months. But in the meantime, if you want to make sure you get the book as soon as it comes out in late summer, you can pre-order it on Amazon. Pre-orders are also a great way to support an author, since it shows advance interest in the book. You can also follow updates on Twitter or Facebook.

Radial Convergence

Posted: January 25th, 2011 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

When I first started grouping projects in VC by visual method, in June 2007, radial convergence was already the most popular group with roughly eight projects. You can see that early classification in a now-extinct page of, back in the day of June 10, 2007 (thanks to WayBackMachine):

As you can see from the image above, those eight radial convergence projects were amongst the first to be indexed in VC. Interestingly enough, three of them, respectively AS Internet Graph (2002), GNOM (2005), and Circos (2005) are amongst my favorites to this day. Although I had started talking about this method in conferences like MeshForum (San Francisco) and reboot 9.0 (Copenhagen, Denmark) it remained nameless for a while. The label came out from a need to classify this and other layout types within the growing collection of projects. Since the model is essentially defined by a radial ordering of items converging with each other, the title radial convergence became an intuitive fit. However, it was hard to predict the method would take off as much as it did. Within the last three years it has become immensely popular, and it seems that with every batch of new projects added to VC there’s always one exhibiting this favored layout.

There are probably many reasons that can explain this popularity. First, it’s a simple execution. It’s probably one of the easiest and fastest ways to trial or visually convey a relational database. Second, it’s remarkably alluring. Humans have a widely known and documented obsession with the circle and many of its iconographic qualities that have been revered through millennia, such as divinity, perfection, unity, or closure. Third, if we add to the previous reasons the growing availability of data, number of visualization enthusiasts, and easy-to-use software, then we have the perfect conditions for growth, multiplication, and increasing popularity.

Currently there are 33 projects under radial convergence in VC, mapping a variety of subjects, from IP addresses to Facebook friends. Here’s a screenshot of all of them, as of January 24, 2011.

I’m back!

Posted: November 2nd, 2010 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything on this blog or in VC. Here’s why:

In mid-July my wife and I left London, after 4 great years living in the English capital. Our last days were packed with parties and plenty of drinks. We moved to Portugal together with roughly 580 Kg (35 boxes) of our stuff - with books being the heaviest category at 220 Kg (to my wife’s annoyance).

Portugal (Lisbon, Batalha, Ponta Delgada, Albufeira)
August and September were spent in different areas of Portugal, enjoying the sun with our family and friends. During this period I also finished the second revision of the VC book. After a long recruitment/visa/relocation process, the day of the big move finally arrived.

On October 18th, 2010, I joined Microsoft Bing as a Senior UX Design Lead, and after a few days of orientation in Redmond, we finally moved to New York City where we’re now living in our temporary apartment.

New York
We’re still getting used to the NYC lifestyle and slowly losing our tourist badges. New York City will be our home from now on, so in case you want to meet or reach me in any way, you know where to find me.

Future + Bing
You can certainly expect more regular updates on VC, now that my life is settling again. In regards to the VC book, it’s currently on its 3rd revision and will be available for purchase next year (more information to come soon). After one year of writing, researching, speaking and occasional consulting, it’s quite stimulating to roll up my sleeves once again and join the great design team at Microsoft Bing. I’m very excited with this new challenge and all its future possibilities. Interesting times ahead…

RSA Animate

Posted: November 1st, 2010 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

The first time I tweeted about RSA Animate was in July 2010, when I posted about the canny Crisis of Capitalism video. Since then the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) has released a few more videos which are remarkable examples of visual storytelling. If you haven’t seen any of these highly addictive pieces you don’t know what you’re missing.

See all videos here:
RSA Animate

Music Visualization: Beautiful Tools to ‘See’ Sound

Posted: July 26th, 2010 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

This is an original guest post by Ricardo Nuno Silva for VC Blog. Ricardo is a Portuguese applications developer with a longtime curiosity concerning the impact of digital technologies in everyday life. You can contact him at


In the last few years many tools and techniques have been developed to help us visualize songs, music and sounds. This post is a showcase of some of these greatest tools. Each one is focused on a particular aspect of this challenging type of visualization.

One of the most common examples of software for sound visualization is the one used in media players. But they usually only translate sound frequencies to shapes and colors on the screen. They’ve been used extensively for leisure, relaxation and dance parties.

The tools in this showcase have a different approach, as they truly “understand” music in its individual notes. Some can be used in real time, while others need to do some number-crunching while analyzing each song.

Below each image there’s the name of the tool or technique, some great video examples, and a link to the author’s site.

If you know other great tools or videos of music visualization, please leave a comment below or via email. Thank you!


Static Visualization of Songs

The Shape of Song by Martin Wattenberg

Narratives 2.0 by Matthias Dittrich


Similar to Sheet Music

Don’t Be Sad by Brad Mehldau

MIDI Music Visualization Videos for Deaf and Hearing Impaired People by Eric Rangell.

Music Animation Machine (MAM) by Stephen Malinowski. See: Beethoven 5th Symphony.


Visualization of Instruments Output

Clavilux 2000 by Jonas Heuer.

Celeste Motus by the Abstract Birds. (via Pedro Custódio)

MuSA.RT - Music on the Spiral Array. Real-Time by Elaine Chew e Alex François.



TypeStar by Scott Garner.


Learning Games through Visualization

Synthesia (for piano) by Nicholas Piegdon.


Animating Virtual Instruments

MIDIJam by Scott Haag. See: MidiJam (I just died in your arms).

Pipe Dream by Animusic. See also: MIDIJam meets Animusic: Pipe Dream


Abstract Visualizations

Ljósið by Ólafur Arnalds

Just Colour by Jesper Brevik


See other music-related visualizations @ | Music.

The ocean’s visual complexity

Posted: April 19th, 2010 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Ocean explorers are puzzling out Nature’s purpose behind an astonishing variety of tiny ocean creatures like microbes and zooplankton animals – each perhaps a ticket-holder in life’s lottery, awaiting conditions that will allow it to prosper and dominate.

The inventory and study of the hardest-to-see sea species — tiny microbes, zooplankton, larvae and burrowers in the sea bed, which together underpin almost all other life on Earth — is the focus of four of 14 field projects of the Census of Marine Life.

The results from the latest census revealed spectacular examples of hard-to-see underwater microbes, available in this stunning gallery of some of the smallest sea species.

You can also track the geographic locations of the Census of the Hard-to-See at:

The next big thing

Posted: April 18th, 2010 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

flame dragon, by peter blaskovic (created in flame painter)

As I was organizing my RSS feeds in feedly, I stumbled upon Gert K. Nielsen’s piece on Visual Journalism, written in March 22, 2010.  The venturesome title of Nielsen’s post was “The next big thing in infographics - five criterias and a solution“. Intriguing and stimulating. I was immediately on board. That is until I started reading his five recommendations and final proposed solution. You should read it and take your own conclusions, but I found Nielsen’s piece absolutely bewildering.

  1. The first recommendation, on the need for computer generated infographics, reads more like a natural progression of the field rather than a recommendation, and is perhaps the most blunt of the list. The second and third criterias are on the other hand a bit more disconcerting.
  2. “It must be beautiful”, Nielsen says in the beginning of his second suggestion. Nothing wrong with that, but you would expect some reflection on the benefits of aesthetics to follow that statement. However, Nielsen appears to be infatuated with aesthetics solely for its popularity… As he explains, “right now the interest is on presentation much more than the content”.
  3. But the third criteria is even more baffling. “It has to be somewhat ambiguous”, states Nielsen. Yes, take a deep breath and read it again. And perhaps like me, you’ll wonder, what? But wait, Nielsen immediately comes to our rescue, fundamenting his view with a remarkable argument. “Describing things in black and white and sharp vector lines is too fanatic. Blends are much better suited to describe a complex situation”. Yes, let’s reconsider this fanaticism for objectivity, clarity and content. The future of infographics is ambiguousness!
  4. (I didn’t quite understand this point, so if someone does please explain.)
  5. Moving on to his fifth criteria, since I couldn’t grasp the fourth, Nielsen asserts “It needs to work in online presentations too”. This could be an interesting starting point to an analysis on the different contexts of use of infographics and the variety of platforms it could explore, but Nielsen falls short in his explanation, merely stating that infograthics could be integrated in online presentations “perhaps by moving or evolving over time”. A very light investigation, to say the least.

But perhaps the most disquieting part of the post was the solution proposed by Nielsen for the future of the field. As he explains: “The solution I came up with is particles in 3D-programs. Brilliant! According to Nielsen, there’s no particular downside to 3D particles (think about clarity and legibility), apart from its demanding learning curve, or in other words, the time it takes to learn these “really tough concepts”. In his pursuit for ambiguousness it’s not entirely surprising that Nielsen fails to consider any other drawback to his formula. His proposed solution becomes slightly more tangible, when he presents an example of this vision: Flame. As he explains “the ability to paint with ‘flames’ fits right into my expectation of seeing graphics with an appearance that fits the current times”.

I will not expand too much on how I find this view seriously distressing, since I’ve done it before and again. But this leads to the growing confusion that Robert Kosara alludes in his latest post, The Visualization Cargo Cult. Gert Nielsen’s post, as puzzling as it might seem, is a reflection of a seriously disturbing view, that sees objective infographics as a thing of the past, and appealing ambiguousness as a much better fit for the “current times”. I just hope it doesn’t become a contagious meme.