Stefanie Posavec On Her Handmade Charts Of Famous Novels

Posavec would rather process information with pencil and paper than PHP, and the results are undeniably powerful.

Stefanie Posavec On Her Handmade Charts Of Famous Novels

Now that there are entire programming languages dedicated to automating data visualization, you couldn’t be faulted for assuming that Stefanie Posavec creates her dizzingly intricate infographics with algorithmic help. But you’d be wrong. In this gorgeous video profile by Protein, Posavec reveals that she analyzes and creates her data-viz projects by hand.

Yes, it’s hard to believe: How could a sane human being create this cascading diagram of On The Road with mere pencil and paper? Posavec, who admits that her inability to code sets her apart from most of her colleagues, simply says that she “spend[s] lots of time reading and re-reading text, counting words or counting numbers… until I have all the data in a notebook.” In fact, she says that even if she could lean on a computer for help, she wouldn’t want to: “By reading and re-reading these texts, I’m able to understand more about a specific subject than I would if I wrote a computer program to analyze that text for me.” Take that, Stanford Literary Lab!

Posavec’s no Luddite, though–she recently co-created an iPhone app called MyFry, which graphically represents phrases and themes in Stephen Fry’s autobiography. Maybe pen-and-paper data visualization has a future after all.

[An example of one of Posavec’s exercises in mapping, this one of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. Click to view larger.]

[The key. Colors represent the subject mater]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.