Every other week I find a message in my Inbox asking for books on infographics. Bad news is that there is not a single book that summarizes what you need to know if you wish to get started in this field (my own The Functional Art wishes to fill that gap), but there are plenty of texts from other disciplines that can come in handy. A few notes: (A) I have written this article with both the rookie and the professional in mind, and as a reading path based on my own: what to read first, and what comes next if you want to get deeper into this fascinating world. (B) I am assuming you have a good grasp of Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and the like; if you don't, I would recommend Lynda for online training on software. I am not listing any program manual. (C) I will only comment books that I've read and used extensively.
Ready? Then, let's go!
There are several areas you have to keep an eye on if you want to succeed in infographics: cartography, statistical representation, cognitive psychology, and information visualization in general. The books in this section will give you a heads-up in all these areas.
1. The Back of the Napkin - Dan Roam (Amazon)
This is probably the best book out there on the basics of infographics, even if it's not written for designers or journalists, but for business folks. It teaches how to plan and organize information in visual form using just pen, paper, and your brain. It should be a mandatory read for reporters and editors, so they understand that infographics are not what people-who-know-how-to-draw do. You don't need to be a great artist to work on graphics (although it can certainly help if you are!). This book proves that idea in an engaging and elegant way. It has a fun website, and a complementary sequel with tons of exercises called Unfolding the Napkin
2. Visual Language for Designers - Connie Malamed (Amazon)
Malamed's text is an excellent overview of all the disciplines I mentioned above. It briefly discusses the psychology of visual perception and provides very good examples and advice on mapping and charts. With just the previous book and this one, you will have the fundamental concepts under your belt, and you will be ready to go.
3. Information Dashboard Design - Stephen Few (Amazon)
Many people out there recommend The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Tufte (see below), as the first book to read about charts, but I would avoid that, even if it is almost mandatory to get a copy of it. Tufte is a more a theoretician than a practitioner, and that shows in the way he writes about "rules" and "laws". Besides, many people find it difficult to fill the gap between Tufte's solemn tone and the real world. So keep him for later and begin your charting career with the most accessible of Few's books (more on them in the next section). Don't be fooled by the title. This text is not just about dashboards.
4. How to Lie With Maps - Mark Monmonier (Amazon)
Some cartographic concepts might be hard to grasp if you try to read an advanced textbook before going through the basics, so start with this little, fun book by Monmonier, one of the leading specialists in mapping (he has another book on maps in newspapers and magazines, although it is a bit dated). After reading this, projection, scale and symbolization will not be misteries anymore for you.
5. Malofiej book series (Society for News Design - Spain)
These are the books to own if you need some inspiration. Have never heard of Malofiej? The Malofiej Awards, organized by the Spanish Chapter of the Society for News Design, are collected every year in this series of gorgeous books (17 so far), a compedium of the best work in newspapers and magazines out there. If you own them all, you will be able to see how journalistic graphics have evolved since 1992. The text is written in Spanish and English and, besides images of the best work of the year, they also include articles by leading professionals.
BEYOND THE BASICS
OK, now that you have the foundations. Let's move on.
It is not possible to talk about one of these books without mentioning the other. They are, simply put, the best out there when it comes to statistical charts. If you have already read Information Dashboard Design, many of the ideas in these two will sound familiar, only that in this case they are explained in much more detail. Clear, concise, and showing an honest hands-on approach, you should always keep them close to your desk.
7. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information - Edward R. Tufte (Amazon)
This is Tufte's first book on graphics, and still the best by far. All of his other books are derivations of this one. Tufte is still considered the father of modern information graphics, a position he deserves, although he is not as approachable as an author as Stephen Few. Even if some of his ideas can be found in older not-so-well-known books, such as Turkey's groundbreaking Exploratory Data Analysis or Bertin's Semiology of Graphics., Tufte surpasses them all with his elegant, sharp, and sometimes sarcastic style.
8. Thematic Cartography and Geographic Visualization (Amazon)
This is the book that I like the most in my small cartography collection, and it is probably the one from which I have learned the most about mapping. Each page is full of useful information on how to do a better job at using statistical maps. If you still don't know what a "choropleth" map is, then run to the bookstore.
9. How the Mind Works - Steven Pinker (Amazon)
Pinker's masterpiece is a bit old, but I consider it the best introduction to cognitive science in the market. I have around thirty books on psychology on my shelves and I still go back to this one every now and then not only to refresh all the great information I once got from it, but also to get inspired by its lively and engaging style. If you want to learn why your eyes and brain work together so well, this is a great place to start. This book is what non-fiction, popular science is all about. The shorter 800 pages of your life, believe me.
Pinker (see previous item) teaches you about the psychology of perception; Ware teaches you how to use the findings of cognitive psychologists to improve your infographics. Reading these two impressive books was a life-changing experience for me. So many things I did every day at the newsroom suddenly made a lot of sense (and others stopped making sense, of course!).
11. Information Design Workbook - Kim Baer (Amazon)
This is not really a "beyond the basics" book but, anyway, I needed one to finish this section with a bit of inspiration, and this is great for that. Full of relevant case studies
THE REALLY ADVANCED STUFF
12. The Elements of Cartography (Amazon)
There are many good textbooks on cartography but this is probably one of the most widely used. Some of its chapters might be a bit too technical but, still, a great resource to have.
13. How Maps Work - Alan M. MacEachren (Amazon)
If you are following the reading path I am recommending, before you get to this massive book you have gone through Pinker and Ware, so you will be ready for the oceans of fascinating information that come out of MacEachren's pages. This is the most comprehensive explanation of why our brain is wired to understand spatial representations so easily.
15. Information Graphics - Robert L. Harris (Amazon)
Don't know what kind of graphic to use to encode a certain data series? Harris has an answer for you. This book is a huge dictionary with shorts explanations on what type of chart is acceptable for each kind of story. Great reference.
16. A primer of GIS - Francis Harvey (Amazon)
OK, there are other deeper books on Geographic Information Systems in the market, I know, but this one is a nice, short, and (above all) understandable-for-the-newbie one. Get it before you launch ArgGIS for the first time in your PC.
A FEW OTHER BOOKS I LOVE
17. The Commercial and Political Atlas and Statistical Breviary - William Playfair (edition by Howard Wainer and Ian Spence) (Amazon)
William Playfair is the guy who started it all more than two hundred years ago. By "all" I mean charts. This great edition of the two of Playfair's masterpieces, with an introduction by Wainer (who has written some fine books on graphics himself, like Graphic Discovery), is a key element on any collection about graphics.
18. The Ghost Map - Steven Johnson (Amazon)
The story behind one of my favorite graphics ever: the map of the London cholera outbreak of 1854, by John Snow. A lesson on reporting and visualization from a computerless age.
19. Cartographies of Disease - Tom Koch (Amazon)
A follow-up to the previous one. The history of mapping epidemics. Full of great examples of old and modern work.
20. Early Thematic Mapping in the History of Cartography - Arthur H. Robinson (Amazon)
Every infographics designer that deserves that title has heard of the famous Napoleon's march through Russia graphic, by Charles Joseph Minard but, did you know that Minard was hardly a single-graphic-man? Yep. He made tons of thematic maps, and he belonged to a long tradition of French mapmakers. Find out about that and much more in this beautiful volume.
21. Wordless Diagrams - Nigel Holmes (Amazon)
Yes: graphics with no words. This cute little book is fun, smart, and a joy to browse through every now and then. Every time I go back to it (something I do quite frequently) I find something that surprises me.
22. Nigel Holmes on Information Design - Steven Heller (Amazon)
The art director for The New York Times interviews one of the best infographics designers ever. 140 pages of great ideas and insight.
23. Picturing Knowledge - Brian S. Baigrie (Amazon)
A lengthy and scholarly discussion on the role of diagrams in science.
AND MORE TO COME...