Posted Tuesday, 27 February 2007 by Gudmund in Icon of the week
Often described by information designers as “the best information graphic ever made”, Charles Minard's map of Napoleon's march to Moscow, created in 1861, set a defining standard for the representation of statistic information, and has been a favourite among usability experts ever since.
Image courtesy of Graphics Press
The map charts Napoleon's disasterous 1812 Russian campaign, marching off towards Moscow with his Grande Armée counting in excess of 500 000 troops. That number steadily diminished, mainly as a result of desease and starvation rather than military action. Arriving in Moscow with a heavily reduced army, Napoleon found the city largely evacuated, stripped of supplies and on fire, depriving his troops of much needed food and shelter. Snubbed of the victors' arrival and Russian notice of capitulation they had expected, Napoleon was eventually forced to start the long retreat. The Russian winter came early that year, and soldiers froze to death in their thousands as the temperature plummeted. Meanwhile, the retreating army was under constant threat of attack as Russian troops chipped away at the remains of the Grande Armée. About 10 000 troops made it out of Russia.Charles Joseph Minard
was a French civil engineer who later in life devoted himself to research in the area of representational maps and graphic charts, and it is this work that he is remembered for. When his map of Napoleon's campaign is still considered a bench-mark in graphic representation of information, this is mainly due to how it successfully integrates a whole range of information in one coherent and clear graphic chart. Firstly, it charts the geographical location of the army on its march to Moscow and back, while the width of the line that charts the route represents the number of surviving soldiers. The advance and retreat routes are set apart through colour coding, and the retreat route (and body-count) is referenced against a temperature-curve at the bottom displaying the dwindling temperature, dropping to below -30ºC.
Some hard-line information designers go as far as to argue that the massive loss of human life during Napoleon's campaign was well worth it, considering the masterpiece it inspired Minard to produce. Well, that might not be an entirely balanced view, but it does illustrate just how innovative and accomplished many consider this graphic to be.Cheer up your office with your very own print of Minard's map, available for purchase at Graphics Press.
For more great information graphics, try these books:Information Graphics: A Comprehensive Illustrated Referenceby Robert L. HarrisInformation Graphics and Visual Clues: Communicating Information Through Graphic Designby Ronnie LiptonInformation Graphics: Innovative Solutions in Contemporary Designby Peter Wildbur and Michael Burke
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