A lot of us started highly specific blogs in the late 2000s that have since gone defunct. Too often, a single joke that seemed funny after a few whiskeys got a bit tired after a few months of basking in our own cleverness. An old personal favorite was Nad Shot. It’s a meticulous collection of comic book characters being struck in the testicles. Nad Shot died a horrible, groin-related death in early 2009. Luckily, a much more clever, often more funny blog is still going strong: Indexed.
“In Internet years, the blog is about a thousand years old,” creator Jessica Hagy tells me. “Get off my lawn.”
If you haven’t heard of it, Indexed is a collection of charts drawn on index cards. But of course that sounds horribly boring. In reality, Indexed is a daily joke or life insight told in graphs. In Hagy’s hands, these humble Venn diagrams and line charts become a form of social criticism. One entry might riff on the subprime mortgage lending crisis, while another correlates beard lengths with hairs found in soup. Perpetually teetering realism and absurdity, every topic feels equally at home in Hagy’s rigid graphical structures.
“I’m really interested in the nuance of language and the gray areas between opposing views, and sometimes I can distill complicated issues with a graph (for purposes of clarity, or for ambiguity–depends on my mood), as opposed to a long and extensively footnoted argument,” Hagy writes. “And graphs are good for droll jokes. Since I know the punchlines, I can craft the jokes to happen along an axis.”
Indexed began in 2006, when Hagy was copywriting at Victoria’s Secret (which she confirms, airbrushes everybody) while pursuing her MBA at night. Having read that every writer needed a blog, she started one.
“I didn’t want a typical ‘here’s what I had for breakfast’ blog, and I never thought anybody would really find my site,” she explains, “so I went with the logical next step of drawing non-mathematical charts on stolen office supplies.”
Six years later, Hagy has gotten much better at drawing circles, and her work is featured in just about every major book on information visualization. She crafts editorial and work-for-hire illustrations full time. Even still, she shows up at Indexed every morning to continue exploring single-serving ideas on index cards. And while I’ve never tired of reading them, I can’t believe that Hagy isn’t sick of drawing the things. After a series or two, most artists abandon their own conventions and move on to explore something new. Hagy revels in her own format, and refutes that she could ever grow sick of it.
“Graphs have their own grammatical format: how the subjects and predicates interact is built into the graph itself, so this is really just another way to present a sentence in a visual way,” she explains. “Verbs of being are equal signs. The overlap of two areas in a Venn diagram is a conjunction. So no, as long as there are ideas to share, a visual sentence can be constructed to convey them.”
To Hagy, communicating in figures and axes is really no different from writing a story in the particular rhythms or rhyme patterns of poetry. In fact, as Hagy has become more proficient in her own graphic language, it seems inevitable that her outside work has become more linguistically complex. For a recent illustration for Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, she illustrated Jeremy Bentham’s 9 Pleasures of Stimulation (pictured above). Let your eyes delve into it for a few minutes. It’s a deep chart, without a single informational element wasted. It also sits in that same intellectually droll space we see in Hagy’s simpler Indexed updates, like a grand summation of a hundred smaller observations and punchlines that have come before it.
“You can plot entire wars or books or lives on a single page with the right framework,” she maintains. “Complexity is [only] one of those boundaries I impose on myself or the blog: I aim to make bite-sized bits of content there.”
It’s a pretty smart model for any artist. Create expansive commissions for hire, and land those jobs by promoting your work through a limitless buffet of amuse bouches on a blog (or since it’s 2013, I guess we should say “Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest account”). But as Hagy pulls yet another blank index card from what now appears to be an infinite trove of stolen office supplies, it’s easy to take for granted: Indexed is a small piece of amazing on an increasingly dumbed-down Internet. And amidst the big data revolution, it feels only more relevant than it did a lifetime ago, way back in 2006.