Graphs, from paper to pixels

Apr 17, 2012

Brian Hayes for American Scientist discusses science publications’ roots in print and the shift towards digital.

Print publishing has a centuries-long tradition and a rich culture. Generations of illustrators have developed technical knowledge, artistic sensibility and a highly refined toolkit. There’s a huge body of existing work to serve as example and inspiration. In digital publishing, this kind of intellectual infrastructure is only beginning to emerge.

Yet the new computational media offer new opportunities for the exercise of creativity, especially in quantitative graphics, where illustrations are closely tied to data or mathematical functions. On the computer screen, graphs and diagrams can become animated or interactive, inviting the reader or viewer to become an explorer. I find this prospect exciting. But I’m also mindful that we don’t yet have deep experience with the new graphical methods.


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