History ID: Genealogy project

We were assigned a genealogy project in my History of Information Design class, where we were to choose a topic and create an infographic to show a lineage. While I was pondering my choice of topics, I was also studying from A Type Primer by John Kane for VisComm. As I puzzled my way through the section on the history of type, I found myself needing a way to organize the information to make sense of it all.

Since the history was presented as a series of inventions in different cities in Europe, I started mapping out who was where, and when.


That quickly became very complicated, but I started to think that a genealogy of type that focused on how one designer influenced another throughout history might be interesting. I also drew out a simpler map showing how writing technologies moved around the western world.


I started sketching out a few ideas for how I might combine several layers of information in a single graphic.


And then I sat down with a roll of paper and drew out a rough prototype to see if I could get the main structure to resolve into something readable.


In this version, I started out with ancient alphabets, then moved into writing styles for the Roman language (calligraphies), and then finally into type designers after the invention of the printing press. I used colored lines to distinguish the different types of information descent, and organized them on an expanding timeline to accommodate the increasing level of detail.

I was pretty happy with how the sketch was shaping it up, so I took it into classes and asked for feedback. Paul (Kahn, my History professor) suggested that I rotate it to read from left to right, for ergonomic reasons. This also helped with the design, because I knew that I wanted to end up with a list of modern typefaces at the end of the timeline, and with a rotated design they wouldn’t be written vertically. He also pointed out that it would be difficult to fully map all of the interactions between designers during the history of type development, because influence is hard to trace.

Doug (Scott, my Design Studio professor) suggested several reference books that I could use to improve the information in the design, and suggested that I differentiate between type designers and printers.

I took those suggestions, and made a digital draft. The timeline runs from left to right along the bottom, with different eras marked in gray bars. The genealogy takes center place, and technologies show up along the bottom, on the timeline. A simplified map sits at the center, and a list of modern typefaces from each style is in a separate section on the right.

I brought this draft in to show to Ernesto (Aparicio, from my VisComm class), and he gave me several suggestions for improvements to the design itself. First, he told me to get rid of the boxes and allow the design to be more open. He liked the hierarchy that was beginning to emerge, and suggested that I do more to emphasize the bold and light lines. Rather than using gray lines to extend the timeline boundaries into the genealogy tree, he suggested that I use very faint gray bars, and a darker one to set off the modern typefaces from the rest of the tree. To balance that, he suggested that I rotate the title and set it in a bold, heavy text. He also suggested a gradient to soften the line between map and diagram.

After those improvements, I am very happy with the version that I presented in class:


I asked for another round of feedback on it this week, and am considering some additional improvements for a final version. This was the version that I submitted for the assignment, but I’d like to play with developing the design further.