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Spring 2011 Edition

Landmark Text Reissued

A primer for exploring and communicating visual data

This article as a PDF.

buy the book nowOriginally published in French in 1967, Semiology of Graphics: Diagrams, Networks, Maps by Jacques Bertin laid the foundation for information visualization. In Semiology of Graphics, Bertin attempted to formulate principles of graphic communication based on his practical experience as a cartographer. These rules were needed, Bertin believed, because "data is transformed into graphics to understand. A map, a diagram are documents to be interrogated."

Last issued in English in 1983, this essential reference for cartographers, graphic designers, illustrators, and geographers had been difficult to locate and expensive to purchase. With republication by Esri Press, it is now readily available at a reasonable price. The Esri Press Classic Series preserves important scholarship in the field of cartography by republishing seminal texts that are no longer in print.

In a preface to the 1983 translation of Semiology of Graphics, Howard Wainer emphasized the book's importance as a guide at a time when "we were on the cusp of an explosion in the use of graphical methods for both the exploration and communication of complex data. This prediction came true. In the intervening 27 years a huge amount of work has been accomplished to help us use graphical methods profitably."

As Wainer noted in the preface to the 2010 English edition, if Bertin's masterwork had remained in print, some of the current "graphic ignorance would be ameliorated." Wainer is a distinguished research scientist at the National Board of Medical Examiners and the author of Graphic Discovery: A Trout in the Milk and Other Visual Adventures.

Bertin, who died in 2010, was a world-renowned authority on information visualization who founded the Cartographic Laboratory of the École Pratique des Hautes Études, part of the University of Paris, in 1954. He was named its director of education in 1957. In the late 1970s, he became head of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

This edition of Semiology includes more than 1,000 maps and diagrams that illustrate and examine graphic techniques for portraying shape, orientation, color, texture, volume, and size. The new English edition includes an epilogue written by the author shortly before his death that details the historic development of the book. In it, Bertin speculated on the impact of GIS and other modern technologies on information design. Esri Press, 2011, 460 pp., ISBN: 978-1589482616

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