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Semiology of Graphics: Diagrams, Networks, Maps

Jacques Bertin · 3 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
Originally published in French in 1967, Semiology of Graphics holds a significant place in the theory of information design. Founded on Jacques Bertin’s practical experience as a cartographer, Part One of this work is an unprecedented attempt to synthesize principles of graphic communication with the logic of standard rules applied to writing and topography. Part Two brings Bertin’s theory to life, presenting a close study of graphic techniques including shape, orientation, color, texture, volume, and size in an array of more than 1,000 maps and diagrams.
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I remember getting Semiology of Graphics from the Palo Alto library around 2006. At the time it was sort of legendary and out of print, but it looks like it's since been reprinted. I think you can get most of the ideas from newer books, but it's well done and clearly ahead of its time.

Interestingly another relatively unknown book I like (and bought/read 20 years ago) is also about harmony:

I would say there's two kinds of harmony: harmony in equal temperament, and "alternative" harmonies based on physics, and this is about the latter. I can't tell from the link what the other harmony book is about. What's good about it?

As far as computer books, I've read a lot of recommendations here over the years like "thinking forth", "Computer Lib" by Ted Nelson, etc. They are well known to some audiences but not others.


I also enjoy reading what people though the computing future would be like. I have "Superdistribution" by Brad Cox:

And "Mirror Worlds" by Gelertner:

I'm pretty sure Gelertner claims that the Facebook feed is identical to his "life streams". I guess taken literally it's hard not to see the current Internet as a "mirror world" that's becoming the real world.

Thanks for the recommendations. Many look interesting but are not books I would organically bump into, which is an alternative description of what I was looking for.

As for a Sadai's book: it is an extremely thorough book about western harmony from first principles. It treats what is perceived - what we hear - as the anchor, and not what we see when we analyse the notes on paper. A good example of that is how we decide to give names to chords. We tend to name chords based on the notes in them, but this can sometime lead to misunderstandings because the context and how those notes are spread through the chord are also very important. Basics like which note is in the bass is taken into consideration, but otherwise these factors are often ignored. Sadai shows many examples for that throughout the book - as well as such "Mistakes" in other famous books. A quote from the book about the approach taken: "The conventional analytic approach as taught in academies is based primarily upon the depiction of the WRITTEN content of a composition by means of symbols and concepts inherent to the accepted analytic code. This analysis however, which describes mainly what is SEEN, does not always succeed in describing what is HEARD - the perceptual musical essence".

> I also enjoy reading what people though the computing future would be like

This prompts me to propose (although it's not obscure) "Artificial Intelligence: The Very Idea" by John Haugeland. It's an AI textbook that is extremely readable and inviting - the best I've seen as a purely readable text, though probably far too basic for most readers here - but that is entirely drawn from the realm of "good old-fashioned AI", i.e. things like logic systems that have very little in common with what is understood as practical AI nowadays. Combine the readability of the book with the apparent hopelessness of its premise, and you have a perfectly nostalgic experience.

I would recommend "Graphics and Graphic Information Processing" by Bertin over La Semiologie simply because the latter reads more like a reference book where Bertin is extremely thorough. But GGIP gets straight to the point and can frame your thinking while going through Semiologie such that you won't lose your way.

Unfortunately GGIP is expensive so I would try to find it at your local library. (French copies are online).

And if you like those, the mother-of-all-infoviz-books is Jacques Bertin’s 1967 Sémiologie Graphique, finally back in print in English translation after 25 years out.

about $50 on Amazon:

Adding to the others.

You should understand the difference between Web design and UI/UX design: it's like Monet/van Gogh versus Da Vinci.

In UIs you're crafting like an "engineer", while with general website design (eg. most of the cases done by graphic designers) you're painting. Either way practice is required (if you're a programmer you know this, you can't learn programming only by reading books :).

Also if I may, I would recommend "Semiology of Graphics" by Jacques Bertin, it's a reference to information design and visualization (if you plan to design apps, you may want to give it a look).

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