Think Infographics are New? At London's Transport Museum, They Date Back to the 1920s

© London Transport Museum

Infographics have become controversial and TreeHugger has been having a field day discussing the pro's and con's.

However, in the "nothing new under the sun" department, it turns out that they have been around as far back as the 1920s.

London's estimable Transport Museum is having an exhibition of vintage posters from that time, and look what's popped up...

© London Transport Museum

The small display of 20 posters is entitled Painting by Numbers and shows artistic, historical versions of data visualisation (as it used to be called).

Most of the posters in the display date back to the 1930s or earlier and were designed to promote the benefits of travelling by London transport. Some were used as public relations to convince people of how good the services were -- nothing new there.

The number of people using the system, even in 1923, is staggering: 1.134 M people, and a staff of 25,000.

© London Transport Museum

The London Transport Museum is a treasure trove of vintage posters about transport. The first ones were commissioned in 1916 to encourage war recruitment, and give information on war-time safety and then to tempt people to travel outside of the city.

Unhappy with the quality of the art work, London Transport began to commission their own art work from the best artists and designers in the land. That has continued and now the Museum has more than 5000 printed posters and nearly 1000 original artworks. The collection is a snapshot of a century of the best of British graphic design.

© London Transport Museum

In fact, data visualisation, as it used to be called, as been around since the second century when the Egyptians used tablets to organise astronomical information. But in the 1920's it started to be used more widely.

TreeHugger Lloyd has commented on the negatives of the infographic. He says: "They take about 10 times the space to convey information than a few words might, they are often all about graphic design over substance, they are almost impossible to use compared to conventional text with hyperlinking references, and in so many cases, just wrong."

So beware, but surely these posters are from a kinder and gentler time.

Tags: A Picture Is Worth | Designers | Transportation

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