The sheer scale of some of the environmental and social challenges facing the world today can be difficult to wrap your mind around – the amount of data and the massive numbers involved can often seem impenetrable. In The Little Book of Shocking Global Facts, Barnbrook – the design firm led by the politically charged type guru Jonathan Barnbrook – has cut an experimental line between type art and infographics that allows you to engage with them without robbing them of their power.
We spoke to designer Jon Abbott to find out more.
DA: How did the book come to be?
JA: "We were approached by a new publishing house — Fiell — to create a book with the title The Little Book of Shocking Global Facts for their first range of books. We were just given the title and the rest was up to us."
DA: What was the premise and how did you develop this?
JA: "The concept was a tricky one to tackle. What constitutes shocking? It's very difficult to shock anyone these days; we are exposed such a barrage of 'shocking' stories and images it's hard to even raise an eyebrow.
"Another problem we faced is that there are a great deal of important subjects which require complex analysis but which cannot adequately be summed up in a snappy sentence or simple statistic. So we tried to find statistics that covered a broad range of subjects and which were interesting, engaging and relevant."
DA: Describe the research process.
JA: "The research for this project was very time consuming. We began by developing the structure of the book -- we split it into eight sections that led on logically from one to the next -- and then targeted our research accordingly. Of course, the sources had be highly authoritative, which meant going through data sets from organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the UN Development Program, as well as NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International."
DA: How do you use design and typography to make statistics engaging and make sense of incomprehensibly large numbers?
JA: "Aesthetically, our intention was not to create an almanac of information design, but a diverse, fun, richly illustrated book that the reader would want to pick up again and again. We thought that 192 pages of numbers and statistics presented in a formal way could have been slightly dull, so we set about creating something which we thought would be visually stimulating for the reader.
"We wanted to avoid any visual clichés; some of the numbers are presented in a seemingly abstract way, but all the illustrations have their root in the fact which they are representing."
DA: How how do you stop the design from detracting from the information?
JA: "There have been accusations levelled at the book that our experimental approach impedes the communication of information. Most of the statistics are supported with some explanatory information and it is presented clearly albeit sometimes in an unusual fashion.
"Our belief is that a book which is quickly digested is quickly forgotten. I would argue the reader deserves more credit than that, and I think people are willing to take the time to delve into a complex illustration again and again."
DA: How was creating the book different from traditional projects?
JA: "It was different from most book projects which we work on because it is usually our job to present text and images created by another author in a logical manner. With this project we started with nothing so we were able to control all aspects of the written and visual content, which was both refreshing and daunting."