Nearly a year ago I mentioned that I was given the full set of The New Illustrated Library of Science and Invention mostly designed by Erik Nitsche. I'm slowly chugging away trying to bring the good stuff online, but in the mean time these should be in order. Each book is beautifully bound with a crisp iconic gold embossing representation of the contents inside. I've attempted to display them in corresponding levels of awesomeness so if you get a bit bored near the end, don't fret. If for some reason these aren't big enough for you, I've put them up on flickr as well.
There I was, feeling proud as punch that I highlighted Ben Fry's wondrous visualisation of the evolution of the Origin of the Species on the 150th anniversary of the book's publication (so I was two days late, sue me) when I came across this equally wondrous look at the changes in the text. Nat from feltlikewool left me a comment alerting me to the wonderful work of Stefanie Posavec and Greg McInerny.
If you think it looks more like an organism than Ben Fry's work, you'd be right. They were inspired by the works of Haeckel and Henslow, ending up with a botanical approach. While Fry's work charts changes in the individual text viewing the whole document as code or DNA, here the focus is on structure. Moving down the scales from book, to chapters, subchapters, paragraphs and sentences. Her other work takes an even deeper look at literary composition, breaking down Jack Kerouc's On The Road to an almost atomic scale and looks at the flow of his writing with a musical flair.
Once again, despite all the number crunching and charming visual wit, the focus here is on change and scale. It accepts science's previous focus on reductionism, and while it doesn't ignore it completely, it moves on. It breaks the text down into one level above it's smallest individual attribute, and then zooms out to look at the organism a whole. It doesn't isolate the object of observation; it looks at it in context of the broader whole. It takes a little while to comprehend the nature of change in this book – the use of colour here is a tad confusing – but it goes a long way to illustrate not only what will change, but what will die off in successive versions. This allows the survival of the fittest to be understood in the context of the book. And yes, we all know he didn't come up with that quote and evolution is more about adaptability than violent struggle, but by including it in later editions it's fair to say the line has become embedded as part of Darwinian thinking.
Having just watched Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life, I immediately needed to see this animation again. Not only does it outline in gorgeous CGI detail the growing complexity and history of life on this planet, but it's narrated by Mr Attenborough. In case you miss the connection, Darwin explored the idea of the tree in (typically) great length:
The affinities of all the beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree. I believe this simile largely speaks the truth. The green and budding twigs may represent existing species; and those produced during former years may represent the long succession of extinct species. As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications.
If you head on down to the Wellcome Tree of Life page, you'll find a rather nifty flash app that lets you play around with a simplified tree of life. It's rather unwieldy to move around, but a fun tool nonetheless. I've spent quite some time playing around and comparing where different species branch off from each other; like this comparison between the sponge and the snake.
What would be a real killer app would be every possible species mapped in a huge sprawling four dimensional network map with the same clarity and awesome model renderings seen in the video. And throw in some four foot multi-touch displays while you're at it. Meanwhile, I highly recommend checking out the doco, it's one of the best.
With Copenhagen starting today I thought it worthy to highlight the brilliant conference logo by studio NR2154. After focusing on words like collaboration, climate, solidarity and simplicity they then moved on to words like dynamic, serious and complexity. What they then came up with is nothing short of beautiful.
Referencing scientific data, there are 192 lines, one for each member state. But it goes further, looking at the fragility of the planet's densely interweaving ecological systems and the networks that help them work. It could also be a social network as well, highlighting the need for co-operation at this conference. I shudder to think of the problems the printers have come up against in reproducing it. And that's what else makes it special. As a series of fine lines, it highlights the fragility that it all rests on. I think it's the first logo I've seen to use complexity as a visual expression, yet is simple in it's execution.
The use of line is continued in a series of commemorative stamps. While it doesn't continue with the visual complexity, it does continue with the same lightness. The stamps, low energy buildings and bio-energy, make use of the open lines to nice effect