The trope of “old meets new,” or classic intersects modern, is recurring in the world of design. We often look to classic designers to inspire new and emerging works, and  information design is no different.

How can we question the novelty and the aesthetic value of information design, especially as we’re surrounded by slick new infographic designs and data visualization? How old are the principles we follow – and why do we follow them? Are there alternative perspectives to consider? These are all good questions. I think we can all agree that Edward Tufte is an important information designer. Most of us have read his books or his essays and attended his seminar.

As we recount those important, stand-out figures of information design, names like William PlayfairJohn Snow and Charles Joseph Minard also come to mind. And for good reason. Who can argue that demonstrating the contamination of a public water pump (as Snow did in 1854) isn’t an important step in the history of epidemiology? Or that Minard’s visualization of Napolean’s casualties during his army’s invasion of Russia isn’t a strong teaching tool across various disciplines? But what people like Playfair, Snow and Minard have contributed is, really, just a small sample of information design at play. They’ve arguable contributed little to the actual understanding of the field itself.

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