Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Jacques Bertin (1918-2010)

I learned today of the death, in Paris on 6th May, of Jacques Bertin. He pioneered an analytic approach to the use of graphic elements to convey meaning. Some of his pronouncements were distinctly strange: for example in his monumental publication Semiologie Graphique: diagrammes, réseaux, cartographie Bertin insists on separating the retinal from the spatial. This becomes very odd when he discusses the difference between the use of lengths and areas to represent quantities, since it involves declaring length as spatial but area as not.

Bertin is ironically at his best – not in his attempt to systematise through textual rules which becomes intimidatingly prescriptive – but in his opposite, graphical, tendency to offer numerous solutions to a single data visualisation task. Even within the narrow domain of a chart of four quantities, Bertin is able to show twenty different representations – an object lesson in not just plumping for the first idea that comes along.

His Semiologie Graphique: diagrammes, réseaux, cartographie is being republished in English (as Semiology of Graphics) this autumn. I cannot easily find out the publisher, but it appears on Amazon.

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