Charts that changed history


What bright spark invented the weather map? Who saved lives when she invented the coxcomb chart? What 82-year-old public transport visualisation is still in use today?

Data visualisation is one of the key skills for delivering marketing insight in the 21st century. It’s no longer enough to have the facts; practitioners must also communicate their findings in a digestible and compelling format.
But data visualisation is nothing new. Ipsos’ Sue Cardwell takes us on a journey back in time to see how and why some of the most pivotal visualisations were created.

Bar charts, line charts, pie charts

William Playfair
1786, 1801
Playfair was the first to publish all the best chart types, leaving none for the rest of us. Clearly an overachiever.

(that’s a shaded map to you and I)

Charles Dupin
A politician, Dupin invented one of my favourite charts: the choropleth. And for the worthy goal of reducing illiteracy, no less.

Coxcomb / Nightingale Rose / Polar Area Chart

Florence Nightingale
Although advised against using dramatic charts, Nightingale did, persuading Queen Victoria to improve military hospitals by depicting the causes of deaths during each month of the Crimean War.

Flow chart of the losses of Napoleon’s army against Russia

Charles Minard
An engineer from Dijon, Minard was sharp as mustard. This “World’s Champion Graph” is just one of several Minard charts which remain famous today.

Weather map

Francis Galton
Galton is also famous to researchers for pioneering the questionnaire and crowdsourcing, amongst other innovations as diverse as fingerprinting and correlation. The word polymath was invented with people like Galton in mind.|

Tube Map

Harry Beck
Beats all other public transport maps ever tried.

Doomsday Clock

Artist Martyl Langsdorf and the board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
1900-1950 was the “Dark Ages of statistical graphics”, however it yielded potent symbols which entered the popular psyche. Langsdorf designed the clock as a magazine cover (where it remains).

Treemap / Billion Dollar-o-gram

Invented by computer scientist Ben Shneiderman, used to great effect by journalist David McCandless
1990s, 2010
Treemaps helped visualise computer drive usage. David McCandless used the treemap to help us make sense of the massive sums bandied about in the media.

Photo: Charts by GrapeCity

About Sue Cardwell

Sue Cardwell has written 3 posts in this blog.

Sue Cardwell is a keen proponent of effective data visualization for business success. She has 10 years of experience in the consumer insight field across several countries. Sue now lives in Auckland, New Zealand and works for Infotools. She’s an inveterate blogger and self-confessed chart geek who loves creating new vizzes in her spare time. Infotools was founded by market researchers who saw the need for software to give organisations easier access to their consumer insight data. Every piece of market research data you collect is valuable. Really valuable. But sorting through all this data to find the information you need quickly, can be hard work. At Infotools, we make the whole process easier by giving you control over your data. For more information and some inspiring case studies, go to