Facsimiles & Foldouts

by RJ ANDREWS September 14, 2022

 

The Information Graphic Visionaries book series includes hundreds of historic data-graphics. They mostly appear in the second-half of each volume, after first-half essays. Throughout design, these images were referred to as “artifact reproductions” by Lorenzo Fanton (series art director) and me. At every step of their consideration, from image-sourcing to color-proofing, we strove to present faithful recreations of the originals.

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Our overriding design constraint was the series 7.8 × 11.0 inch (199 × 279 mm) trim size. These dimensions are big enough to sport beautiful images, and small enough to hold open with one hand. If you wanted to read one of our design essays while riding the subway, you could.

The series dimensions are inspired by an old French statistical atlas, Album de statistique agricole. There is some magic in holding this particular book. It feels perfect, as if it was designed exactly for the human hand.

Holding up a copy of the 7.0 × 10.5 inch Album de statistique agricole, shown with one of its full-spread choropleth maps.

Holding up a copy of the 7.0 × 10.5 inch Album de statistique agricole, shown with one of its full-spread choropleth maps.

With this volume in mind, we also considered a spectrum of modern design books. Finally, Lorenzo selected the precise size considering paper-sheet dimensions and mathematical harmony.

With our page-size set, we determined to recreate the sensory experience of the original artifacts. Throughout, we were governed by a singular value: These artifacts were first and foremost information-objects. We never embarked to create perfect forgeries. (Even if we could, the expense would be staggering.) Instead, our goal was to convey the same information inherent in the originals. This meant: Preserving their tapestry of attention-grabbing emphases. Making sure the minutiae of their details were legible. And honoring their aesthetic beauty as best we could.

Wherever possible we reproduced images at actual size. In a few rare instances this required increasing image resolution using artificial intelligence, which improved clarity of some small typography. Original artifacts that were slightly larger than our books prompted special design choices. For example, we cropped and slightly shrank Florence Nightingale’s coxcomb folio. The combined effect is an experience that is similar to reading the original, but more accessible than if we pursued a full-scale replica because that would be prohibitively expensive. Throughout the series we note actual dimensions and at what scale they are reproduced.

Title page of Florence Nightingale’s original folio (left) compared to the book spread’s cropped and 85%-scale reproduction (right).

Title page of Florence Nightingale’s original folio (left) compared to the book spread’s cropped and 85%-scale reproduction (right).

The challenges of reproducing hand-drawn, hand-colored, woodcut, engraved, etched, and lithographed images were real. They all had to be recreated on the same modern four-color offset printer and the same modern paper. We compared a series of color proofs from each volume against original artifacts to help balance our inks. Our eyes and our cameras helped us compare a series of color proofs from each volume against the original artifacts. We let the coloring of the information graphics, not their aged paper, guide our decisions.

Series editor RJ Andrews comparing color proofs to original artifacts at the David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford University.

Series editor RJ Andrews comparing color proofs to original artifacts at the David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford University.

Two volumes, Emma Willard and Florence Nightingale, feature foldouts. They prompted our most deeply-considered (and contended) page designs.

Emma Willard’s first atlas, Willard’s Atlas to Accompany Geography for Beginners (1826), contained a single foldout, a double-planisphere map of the world. (This type of foldout is called a gatefold because it opens horizontally from the left and right, like a swinging gate.)

One serious consideration for this wide map was that its most interesting details are in its center. We were concerned that they might get lost in our book’s gutter. After much debate, we arrived at a now-obvious solution for its presentation: we shifted the image rightward, turning the gatefold into a simple foldout.

Original artifact gatefold plan (left) compared to reproduction standard fold (right) with arrows highlight shifted center and aligned-right foldout.

Original artifact gatefold plan (left) compared to reproduction standard fold (right) with arrows highlight shifted center and aligned-right foldout.

Shifting Willard’s map allowed us to present it at actual size, showcase its most interesting features, and even align the crease of our single fold with the right-side fold of the original. Our only loss was the experience of the double folds—a good compromise to retain the center content.

Florence Nightingale’s first coxcomb folio, Mortality of the British Army (1858) presented a tougher foldout challenge. It originally published two types of foldouts. The first type unfolded rightward like an accordion.

Original Nightingale artifact unfolded with arrows highlighting accordion fold lines.

Original Nightingale artifact unfolded with arrows highlighting accordion fold lines.

We decided to be expeditious with our reproductions of this type of foldout. In our volume they are shown to-scale via a single fold that foregoes the extra step of matching the original fold lines. Doing so allowed these to be produced by machine, avoiding the expense of manually creasing each page into a 3-page accordion fold.

Original Nightingale artifact’s 3-page accordion fold (left) compared to reproduction’s 2-page standard fold.

Original Nightingale artifact’s 3-page accordion fold (left) compared to reproduction’s 2-page standard fold.

The second type of Nightingale foldout was a different story. They are part of the same Nightingale folio, which combines text, tables, and diagrams. Each expands to the right like an accordion, and then folds down. The effect of the extra-large diagram combined with the multi-step reveal places special emphasis on these charts. They really grab your attention.

Original Nightingale foldout-and-down, folded and unfolded, with arrows highlighting fold lines.

Original Nightingale foldout-and-down, folded and unfolded, with arrows highlighting fold lines.

To reproduce these foldout-and-downs would require a person to crease each page by hand and then carefully tab the folded page into their book’s binding. This might sound expensive to you. Believe me, it is.

The prospect of increasing the cost of each individual book by a significant portion for the sake of this special foldout shook us to rethink everything: Why are we doing this artifact? This book? This series? Would anyone detect the extraordinary effort?

We considered shrinking Nightingale’s diagram so its foldout would fit inside our book’s vertical dimension. But shrinking only the foldout, and keeping the rest of its associated pages at near actual-size, was problematic because it would reduce the emphasis that Nightingale gave to this large diagram. Alternatively, if we shrank all of the pages merely to fit the foldout, then lots of text would become too small to read. There were no easy fix.

We determined to retain the special foldout design, preserving the same scale and flourish of its extravagant folds. And since we are going through this extra effort, we are also matching our reproduction’s fold lines to the original accordion-fold design.

Reproduction Nightingale foldout-and-down.

Reproduction Nightingale foldout-and-down.

At first, this foldout challenge appeared to be a burden. Today, I believe these are a great asset. They are a fitting representation for the ethos of Information Graphic Visionaries, which celebrate the craft of spectacular data visualization creators. Data visualization’s media are part of the message. Their canvas matters.

Replicating image size, vibrancy, and page-design is the ideal. 
While there may not be any way to truly recreate the beauty of hand-painted accents on a copperplate engraving, we tried. We will never be perfect, but we will always be striving for perfection.

 

Information Graphic Visionaries is a new book series celebrating three spectacular data visualization creators.

With with new writing, complete visual catalogs, and discoveries never seen by the public. 

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