Thursday, June 08, 2017

How Graphic Design Makes Buildings Better

Over the last couple of weekends, in honour of Edward Tufte's work on information design, I drafted a visual example of one helpful principle from his lifetime of work. His work is so helpful in this particular instance because, beyond describing the importance of clarity in linework and colour selection, he also offers guidance on how best to choose them. Each should be proportionally chosen by their "smallest effective difference" relative to other elements (which the below image tries to represent; click to enlarge). The middle panel shows my best attempt at perfecting the balanced linework, with the two extremes set to each side, one with the line differences exaggerated and the other using all the same line weight. 


Competency in information design is core to the fluent and detailed expression of architectural ideas. The reason I meet the subject with such intensity is because I recognize construction documents as central to the design process and building awesome structures. The graphic design characteristics of construction documents are actually responsible for communicating things with completely nontrivial risks attached to them like structural loads and electrical capacities. These documents have to go out perfectly. My appreciation of construction drawings and architectural renderings extends into the artistic, and a well-rendered architectural section would not be out of place on my apartment walls. We all sort of have an intuition there's something scientific about graphic design, but Edward Tufte's work was significant because it established the field in a larger scientific context borrowed mainly from the cognitive neurosciences and statistics. I return again and again to the three books I own of Tufte's:
  • The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983)
  • Envisioning Information (1990),
  • Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative (1997)
They are exceptionally good books and I've never felt the need to expand past them (with the exception of Ellen Lupton's excellent work for Princeton Architectural Press).


I think more than anything my accomplishments in graphic design lay in the intensity with which I bring to bare the topic. Having understood information design's central role in construction documents and architectural renderings, I attack the subject with zeal and make no apologies for being a perfectionist when it comes to the graphical quality of my work. Assuming one is properly motivated to summon the care necessary to match the challenge, these particular images were all made in Adobe Illustrator CC. Two of the references are from Francis K. Ching and the top parapet is from one of my building science texts.

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