Go for the Gold » Brass Takes the Cake

August 10, 2012

Oji Masanori Brass Paperweights

Set these paperweights down on the top page of your finished novel by the window on a breezy day…

Although brass is not a traditional medalling metal – and although paperweights belong to the class of less-than-necessary desktop equipment – we’re awarding gold to these exceptional objects by Japanese designer Oji Masanori. The solid brass polyhedra will oxidize over time, building up a gorgeous patina. They come in three different shapes, each with a satisfying heft and unfussy integrity. These paperweights are clearly made for more than holding down a stack of bills: they’re meant to be admired and held in the hand and set down on the top page of your finished novel, for example, by the window on a breezy day. Buy the set from one of our favorite shops for all things home, Toronto-based Mjölk.

In the Bag » Lir’s First Backpack!

January 4, 2011

Skip*Hop Owl Backpack
Built NY Munchler Lunch BagSkip*Hop Hug and Hide Activity OwlRufus Butler Seder's Gallop! Scanimation Picture Book
Tangle Creations Textured TangleJapanese StickersChopper Chums Shark Puppet
Jellycat If I Were a Cow Board BookLiquid Motion ToyDr. Seuss Horton Hears a Who!
top: Skip*Hop Owl Backpack
first row: Built NY Munchler Lunch Bag, Skip*Hop Activity Owl, and Rufus Butler Seder's Gallop!
Second row: Tangle Creations Textured Tangle, Japanese Stickers, and Chopper Chums Shark
Third row: Jellycat If I Were a Cow Book, Liquid Motion Toy, and Dr. Seuss Horton Hears a Who!

Yesterday we bid a very sad farewell to little Lir who, with her parents, jetted off to visit her Safta in Tel Aviv for 2 long months! I needed to be sure she had all the superfluous doodads she might want during her stay so, I packed her a sweet little owl backpack from Skip*Hop full of fun things from her Doda and Dodo.

1Skip*Hop Owl Backpack$20

Skip*Hop Owl BackpackPretty much everything by Skip*Hop is not only adorable but intelligently designed and seemingly made by little baby toy engineers. Since Lir has now mastered owl sounds “hooo hooo” we decided that this backpack, with two compartments and a handy side pouch for her water, would be just right.

2Built NY Benny Munchler illustrated by Stephen Savage$5.50

Built NY Munchler Lunch BagA growing (and sometimes moody) one-year-old needs plenty of snacks. This Benny the Lion Munchler bag by another Lo’s List favorite, Built NY, was a perfect way to ensure that Lir’s (ba)nana would stay nice and fresh during an afternoon stroll in Tel Aviv.

3Skip*Hop Hug and Hide Activity Owl$18

Skip*Hop Hug and Hide Activity OwlThis Skip*Hop momma and baby owl is sure to keep any curious tyke busy. Baby owl squeeks and fits neatly into momma’s pouch, who’s belly jingles, one wing crinkles, the other has a little mirror, one claw has a leafy chew toy, the other a wooden ring to grasp…

4Rufus Butler Seder's Gallop! Scanimation Picture Book$12

Rufus Butler Seder's Gallop! Scanimation Picture BookThis book by Rufus Butler Seder is spectacular. And a great compromise for parents trying to ward off the evils of television, iphones, and other drone-inducing electronic gadgets. Each page holds a scanimation: galloping horse, crowing rooster, etc.

5Tangle Creations Textured Tangle$12

Tangle Creations Textured TangleThis is a great little gadget – pretty simple in concept but somehow addictive – even to us old folks. Tangle Creations makes a whole line of this product, including a chrome-looking version that’s pretty slick…

6Japanese Stickers$3.50

Japanese StickersLir has officially discovered stickers and, like any little girl, can’t get enough of them (oh how I cherished my sticker collection). So, just to torment her Safta, we sent Lir en route with plenty of sticky pictures to plaster all over grandma’s house.

7Chopper Chums Shark Puppet$15

Chopper Chums Shark PuppetLir doesn’t shy away from the more ominous characters in the animal kingdom. In fact, I would say lions and sharks are around the top of her list – if not only for the “WRAAAAR” sounds they make. This shark puppet from Chopper Chums will surely help get her narrative across.

8Jellycat If I Were a Cow Board Book$11

Jellycat If I Were a Cow Board BookEach page of this board book from Jellycat has something tactile to discover. And, if cows aren’t your thing, choose from If I Were a Bunny, Giraffe, Hippo, Kitten, Pig, Puppy, Sheep, Zebra, or Elephant. All come with appropriate tail.

9Liquid Motion Toy$6

Liquid Motion ToyThink of this as baby’s first Lava Lamp. I’m hoping that this little liquid motion toy helped satiate Lir during the 10-hour flight to Tel Aviv. And, perhaps the pink and blue colors mixing to make purple will provide as her first color theory lesson…

10Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!$10

Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!Lir has already blazed through Hop on Pop, One Fish Two Fish, and There’s a Wocket in my Pocket! so, we figured it was time to add another Seuss classic to her liberry: Horton Hears a Who! We ♥ the cotton candy blue and salmony pink/red color scheme (oh and Horton of course).

Top Ten » Thank You Santa!

December 28, 2010

DKNY Shaped Down Jacket
Alexander Wang Rocco DuffleBarney's SocksMaison Scotch Toggle Poncho
Mariage Fréres Lapsang Souchong TeaRestoration Hardware Cashmere HandwarmersLili's Truffles
Tretorn Snow JoggerShel Silverstein's Falling UpKanoodles
top: DKNY Shaped Down Jacket
first row: Alexander Wang Rocco Duffle, Barney's Socks, and Maison Scotch Toggle Poncho
Second row: Mariage Fréres Lapsang Souchong Tea, Restoration Hardware Hand-warmers, Lili's Truffles
Third row: Tretorn Snow Jogger, Shel Silverstein's Falling Up, and Kanoodles

Oh Santa! I almost forgive you for that flu you plagued YZ and I with this Xmas, what with all the juicy gifts you lugged down our chimney along with it. All in all, the 25th was a veritable indulge-fest, with everything on my list neatly wrapped in recycled paper under the tree. Top that with a visit from our niece Lir – who also benefited from being more nice than naughty this year – and her parents, a magnificent brunch orchestrated by YZ, and an all-out blizzard (albeit a day late) – 2010 was a keeper in the Book of Holidays.

1DKNY Shaped Down Jacket$2295

DKNY Shaped Down JacketNot that I didn’t love my very loud Burton pixel jacket, it was high time for a new winter coat. And, seeing that there’s a bun in the oven (just going to slip that one under the radar), I needed something with a wee bit of room to grow. DKNY’s classy collection of outerwear was just the place…

2Alexander Wang Rocco Duffle$875

Alexander Wang Rocco DuffleI don’t want to tell you how much time I’ve wasted drooling over the Alexander Wang Rocco bag. And now it’s mine. Santa searched high and wide for the exact model I wanted and found it at a Barney’s in Chicago. It did come with a Claus(e) teehee: no more bags ’till next Christmas. That’ll be tough.

3Lots ‘o’ Socksvar.

Barney's SocksAnyone who knows me is aware of my weakness for loud socks and this year I got a massive dose of the accessory. Thanks to Itamar & Nessa for the stunning Vivienne Westwood over-the-knee pair and to Santa for the Barney’s and Happy Socks numbers.

4Maison Scotch Toggle Poncho$93

Maison Scotch Toggle PonchoI’m a sucker for big, knitted sweaters and usually find some greats in the men’s department of some of my favorite chains. But, for a change, this Fair Isle Toggle Poncho from Amsterdam’s Maison Scotch has all the snuggle factor with a bit more femininity.

5Mariage Fréres Lapsang Souchong Tea$9.50

Mariage Fréres Lapsang Souchong TeaIf you’re a tea lover like YZ and I, then you know that any old Twinings just won’t do. And, when you’re plowing through the holidays abstaining from all the tasty Champagne, wine, Hot Toddies, and Egg Nog, it’s good to know you have the very king of tea purveyors – Mariage Fréres – to keep you warm.

6Restoration Hardware Cashmere Handwarmers$10

Restoration Hardware Cashmere HandwarmersJust in time for the big blizzard, these snuggly cashmere-covered hand-warmers from Restoration Hardware are the perfect remedy to walking in a winter wonderland. They’re still available in four of the original colors and at half price – just $10 a pop! You can also purchase replacement gel packs.

7Lili's Truffles

Lili's TrufflesI think we can all agree that Christmas and homemade goodies go hand in hand. We can always count on or favorite neighbors Lili & Thomas for a sampling of Lili’s scrumptious truffles. Check out one of our favorite foodie blogs, Smitten Kitchen, for a hazelnut/chocolate version.

8Tretorn Snow Jogger$75

Tretorn Snow JoggerI’m a total Tretorn junkie – been wearing the same style sneaker for years now – they’re just too comfy. So, it came as no surprise that these Tretorn Snow Joggers are the most foot-friendly pair of winter boots I’ve ever donned. Go on weather. Show me what you’ve got.

9Shel Silverstein Booksvar.

Shel Silverstein's Falling UpIn anticipation of our Summer bundle of joy, I’ve taken a head start on building the little one’s personal library. Alongside several Coralie Bickford-Smith designed editions, Pipsqueek will of course need all the Shel Silverstein classics. So, under the tree we found Runny Babbit and Falling Up.


KanoodlesKanoodle is the most addictive game since I first set my paws on Tetris. Colorful, compact, and with two puzzles to solve – one 2D and one 3D, this will provide you with hours of fun. Perfect for all those airport delays and that long trip back home.

Gift Guide » Buy the Best for Your Bookworm!

December 7, 2010

Blurb Gift Card
Established & Sons Landmark Table LampCampomaggi Leather Messenger BagTarget's Fish Bowl Bookends
Knock Knock Personal Library KitCustom Embossed Monogram SealMontblanc Fountain Pens
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David MitchelliBride Junior Polar Bear BookshelfOut of Print Tees The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
top: Blurb Gift Card
first row: Established & Sons Table Lamp, Campomaggi Messenger Bag, and Target’s Fish Bowl Bookends
second row: Knock Knock Personal Library Kit, Custom Embossed Monogram Seal, and Montblanc Pens
third row: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, iBride Junior Polar Bear Bookshelf, and Out of Print Clothing’s The Catcher in the RyeTee

For some of us, the holiday season is about one thing and one thing only. Ok, two things. Ok, a bunch of things—all nicely wrapped and book-related. Because there is nothing more satisfying than winter reading, whether it’s the classic you know almost by heart, the novel everybody else already read six months ago, or the thriller you’ll never admit you couldn’t put down.

So check your friends and family. Who’s been stacking books around the chair beside the radiator? Who keeps slipping away for chapter-shaped intervals? Take note—and give them something from this list.

1Blurb Gift Cardvar.

Blurb Gift CardEverybody has a story to tell. Whether you’re sharing yours with someone you love, or you just want to give that gifted nephew his first chance to see himself in print, Blurb makes it easy to edit your own oeuvre.

2Established & Sons Landmark Table Lamp$835

Established & Sons Landmark Table LampGood books on winter nights require a good lamp. With the Landmark Table Lamp, Established & Sons sheds a whimsical light on even the most serious page. And should your eyelids flutter and your hand get heavy, guess where you can rest your book?

3Campomaggi Leather Messenger Bag$725

Campomaggi Leather Messenger BagTrain platforms, airport waiting rooms, the sticky chairs in take-out restaurants, the benches outside dressing rooms: the world is full of places where you’ll want a book. Have one always at hand in this elegantly rumpled messenger bag from Italian designer Campomaggi.

4Target’s Fish Bowl Bookends$30

Target's Fish Bowl BookendsWhile we applaud the idea of propping up Moby Dick with a goldfish, we’d probably repurpose these Fish Bowl Bookends from Target as terrariums, leaning a collected Keats against selected titanopses. Kudos to Target for always having something design-savvy at a super-reasonable price!

5Knock Knock Personal Library Kit$16

Knock Knock Personal Library KitMost of us have lent or borrowed books that never made it back. This
kit by Knock Knock is no guarantee that your set of Boys Own Adventures will remain whole in the future, but it may serve as a gentle reminder to some close, forgetful or unscrupulous friend that you know exactly where that volume’s gone…

6Custom Embossed Monogram Seal$66

Custom Embossed Monogram SealAnd even if you’ve resigned yourself to lending books that end up gifts, at least you can leave a subtle and distinctive mark on the flyleaf. There are endless sources on the web where you can have a custom seal made – just Google it! Or click here…

7Montblanc Pensvar.

Montblanc Fountain PensOf course a pencil usually does the trick. But sometimes we just give in to the pleasure of an extravagantly well-made thing. We all choose our excesses: mine’s a Meisterstück Le Grand rollerball: warm in the hand, smooth on the page, an engagement present from my fiancée.

8The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell$13

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David MitchellIn this case you can safely ignore the old chestnut about books and their covers. It looks and reads beautifully. Set in turn-of-the-19th-century Japan at the first, tentative point of meeting between Dutch traders and an isolated island nation, this new book is David Mitchell’s masterpiece.

9iBride Junior Polar Bear Bookshelf$1882

iBride Junior Polar Bear BookshelfFor readers of every age, a bookshelf (like this one by iBride) properly stocked is an object of wonder and adventure. We’re glad to see that, at last, form is following function. Two suggestions to start off a collection here: Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez and The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.

10Out of Print Clothing’s The Catcher in the Rye Tee$28

Out of Print Tees The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. SalingerNot just another crummy t-shirt. Our favorites from the collection include The Catcher in the Rye, 1984, The Hound of the Baskervilles (priced six shillings) and, dare we say it, the Hardy Boys classic The Mark on the Door. More about Out of Print Clothing here…

T-Shirt Tuesdays » Out of Print? Not Anymore!

November 23, 2010

top: The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
bottom: Animal Farm by George Orwell and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

We’ve been big fans of the Out of Print tee series ever since we first stumbled upon the site. Then, about a month ago we saw this book design gem over on Mikey Burton’s Flickr stream. Thus, when we saw that Out of Print and Mikey hooked up to make the tees above, well, it was like a fairy godmother had read our diary! But, the perks just keep coming with the gang at OoP. Not only can you snag some seriously highbrow tees from their collection — something any bookworm would LOVE for x-mas BTW — they’re serious literary do-gooders too! For each tee you buy, the company donates one book to a community in need through their partner, Books For Africa. Go on! Tackle your whole holiday list with one well-versed swoop.

“Each shirt is treated to feel soft and worn like a well-read book.” — OoP

top: The Hound of the Baskervilles by A. Conan Doyle and 1984 by George Orwell
bottom: Final Blackout by L. Ron Hubbard and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Bookworm » It’s Never Too Late…

September 20, 2010

Zoologique and Presque Tout by Joëlle Jolivet

It’s never too late to have a happy childhood, as our dad likes to say—and indeed, having discovered Joëlle Jolivet’s lusciously illustrated children’s books, we’re about ready for a second helping. We’ve been aware of Jolivet’s work for some time now: while browsing our favorite librairies we’ve admired her covers for Flammarion, Seuil and 10-18 — but her boldly colored (or strategically black & white) linocut style comes into its own in the large-format illustrations of her own books.

In Presque Tout (Almost Everything) and Zoologique (Zoological), inspired by the pages of old dictionaries, she assembles a visual encyclopedia of the world: of houses, big and small creatures, fruits and vegetables, musical instruments, striped or spotted animals. The illustrations convey a sense of bustling simultaneity, and we can just imagine Junior’s little brain popping open with the possibilities of each revelatory page.

top: Coloriages by Joëlle Jolivet
bottom: Oups! Written by Jean-Luc Fromental & Illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet and Vues D'Ici by Joëlle Jolivet & Fani Marceau

The same impression of expansive potential appears throughout Jolivet’s coloring book Coloriages, where, from cover to cover, the intricate designs of her linocuts and the thousands of empty cells of feathers, leaves and leopards’ spots all call out for your old set of Faber-Castells. We say ‘your old set’ because it’s unlikely you can surrender the pleasure of completing this tree of birds or royal pair to even your beloved offspring.

Easier to share with others, perhaps, are the chaotic scenes of Oups! or the single, panoramic landscape of Vues d’ici. A favorite of ours is the less exuberant but energetic compositions of Vues d’Ivry.

PS! You can find Jolivet’s works translated to English on

Vues D'Ivry by Joëlle Jolivet

Second Look » Bruna’s Maigret

September 2, 2010

top: A.W. Bruna & Zoon’s Zwarte Beertjes paperback series
bottom from left: Georges Simenon’s Maigret en de Maniak van Montmartre, Maigret en de Lange Lijs, and De Klasgenoot van Maigret

Dutch author and illustrator Dick Bruna is probably best known as the creator of MiffyNijntje in Dutch — the cute but inscrutable rabbit dressed like a toddler and pictured, in bold lines and primary colors, at the zoo, in the snow, at the seaside, etc. In the 50s and 60s, however, working for his family’s publishing house (A. W. Bruna & Zoon) Bruna also designed posters and covers for over two thousand different books. His covers for classic detective stories and thrillers by Leslie Charteris, Havank and Georges Simenon in particular highlight the virtues of his design approach. Stark contrasts, flat color and the slightly unexpected shapes of decoupage combine not just to ornament the books but to convey a durable, iconic impression of their contents.

from left: Havank’s Het Geheim van de 7de Sleutel, Het Probleem van de Twee Hulzen, and In Memoriam de Schaduw

While they each conserve a hint of Bruna’s characteristically taciturn whimsy, the covers can establish as well a feeling of suspense, a gloomy tension and an often gritty, distinctly European atmosphere. Every good autumnal thriller should have such a cover. Our favorite: the layered, not quite tesselating shapes & reflections of boats on the cover of “Maigret and the Headless Corpse”. We love the way the stillness of the water and the balance of the composition are disrupted by that grisly, understated title.

top from left: Georges Simenon’s Zondag, Zwarte Beertjes Literair Akkoord, and Georges Simenon’s Maigret en het Lijk Zonder Hoofd
bottom from left: Leslie Charteris’ De Saint in het Harnas, De Saint op de Loer, and Vendetta voor de Saint

Bookworm » Boys’ Adventure

July 23, 2010

With the summer reading season in full swing and just when we had tired of this year’s Swedish crime wave, we were delighted when a friend sent us the new boxed set of the Penguin Books’ Boys’ Adventures series. These tales by Buchan, Stevenson, Burroughs, Doyle and others, with their smart and exuberant covers by Coralie Bickford-Smith (who is also behind Penguin’s elegant Clothbound Classics redesign) compose a vivid cross-section of the best of our childhood reading.

In art-directing these new covers, Bickford-Smith has taken on a hefty task. These are some of the best-dressed and beloved books in literature, known to readers not only by heart but at first glance. Who can forget N. C. Wyeth’s painted set of illustrations for ‘Treasure Island’, with its grim and square-jawed pirates and Jim Hawkins’ ultimatum in the rigging — One more step, Mr. Hands, and I’ll blow your brains out? How completely have the countless pulpy, bulging covers of the Tarzan novels and comics shaped the way we read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ tale? Few people now may know the thousands of detailed engravings that appeared one hundred years ago in the Hetzel editions of Jules Verne (Around the World in 80 Days), but their intricate visual vocabulary survives in our imaginations in everything from Steampunk to the films of Hayao Miyazaki. In this respect the Penguin series is shrewdly designed: Bickford-Smith has managed to embrace the visual heritage of each of the ‘Boys’ Adventure’ books in turn, creating volumes that are at once fresh and familiar. We also love the way her use of color gives the books both a hint of contemporary whimsy and, side by side, a kaleidoscopic cohesion.

By no means should you choose just one of these — but if you need a place to start, let us suggest an old favorite: Erskine Childers’ novel of spies and intrigue in the wind-whipped dunes and shallows of the Baltic Sea: ‘The Riddle of the Sands’.

World Cup Fever » Arkitip + Chinatown Soccer Club

July 7, 2010

Foosball illustration by Dan Funderburgh

Starting to worry about how you’ll fill your days once the Cup is over? With just two games left to enjoy, you might be wondering: “how will I live without my daily dose of soccer?!”. Well, to help you transition back to the real world, order a copy of Arkitip’s Issue №0055 (the World Cup special edition), done in collaboration with Chinatown Soccer Club. It’s 100% football meets design — cover to cover.

The issue features graphic design, photography, and writing from CSC’s talented collective, including a series of killer soccer club crests by Justin Fines, a photo-reportage on the soccer scene in Haiti by Alessandro Zuek Simonetti, and a riotous feature about FC St. Pauli photographed by Kevin Trageser. With 160 pages of World Cup-inspired content, a free Adidas / Arkitip / Chinatown Soccer Club scarf and a slick double-sided poster, you’ll be sure to keep that one-track-football-mind happy for at least a few post-Cup days!

Each issue comes with an Adidas / Arkitip / Chinatown Soccer Club scarf and an 18″x24″ double-sided poster designed by Dan Funderburgh

World Cup Fever » African Arenas

July 3, 2010

All photos from African Arenas © Thomas Hoeffgen

At this stage of the tournament, with so many favored teams crashing out (see yesterday’s Brazil v. Holland shock) and with the hopes of entire continents dashed by the sporting fates (poor Ghana! perfidious Suárez!) it may be time for a reminder that the World Cup is, after all, about football. At the heart of the carefully managed fanfare of this four-yearly feast is a simple game, played with no more than a ball and a set of posts. A new book by photographer Thomas Hoeffgen, African Arenas, captures just that pared-down beauty of the game.

Hoeffgen’s project spans more than a decade, during which he photographed African footballers and playing-fields in about a dozen countries throughout the continent. In many ways he presents a sober portrait of the sport: the most striking of his images reveal the football not of vuvuzelas and corporate-sponsored super-stadia but of the half-abandoned edges of daily life. His players duke it out on communal football pitches of packed earth or yellow grass — in open spaces under concrete overpasses and in the lots of the dry, suburban grid. What he reveals in African Arenas clearly transcends these few, frenzied weeks of the World Cup. Stripping back the layers of South Africa 2010 in these spare and honest photographs, he rediscovers for us the intensity and passion that the game demands from those who play it.

Thomas Hoeffgen works mostly in advertising and editorial photography and has shot campaigns for, among others, Adidas and Red Bull. See more of his work here and buy his African Arenas here. Also, for those of you who speak the German, check out this nice little interview he did with Spiegel Online.

All photos from African Arenas © Thomas Hoeffgen

Papercuts » Is Your Office Present & Correct?

April 6, 2010

Present & Correct Over the Rainbow BookPresent & Correct Correctional Facility Eraser Set
Present & Correct Dutch Beetroot Stamp Block 1971Present & Correct Italian Staplers
top: Over the Rainbow Book and Correctional Facility: assorted erasers
bottom: vintage Dutch beetroot stamp collection from 1971 and Italian staplers in assorted colors

I am so embarrassingly addicted to office supplies. From the run-of-the-mill manila interoffice folder to every kind of stickie page marker, I love it all — perhaps it’s a residual childhood librarian/teacher obsession… Thus, it was with childish glee that I scoured the Present & Correct online shop: discovering a cornucopia of office must-haves. The company’s collection of workroom thingamabobs spans from vintage melamine desk trays to quirky notebooks and writing utensils (including a solid selection from another Lo’s List favorite Millimeter Milligram). P&C’s site is the perfect gifting destination for that bookworm / workaholic in your life!

“Since 2003, when we were not being graphic designers, we have been cutting and pasting from our front room in London. Making paper goods and selling them far and wide. It reminded us of being small; sticking tin foil to cereal cartons and the dog, but hopefully with more professional results.” — P&C

Present & Correct Happiness PrintPresent & Correct Library Notebooks
Present & Correct Fruit & Seeds ChartPresent & Correct Dutch Animal Stamp Block 1967
top: Happiness Print and Library Notebooks
bottom: Fruit & Seeds Chart and Dutch animal stamp block from 1967

Bookworm » Q&A with Infographics Whiz David McCandless

March 11, 2010

Lo's List /// David McCandless' Information is Beautiful UK Hardcover EditionA few months back, while splashing around in the happy bookstore mud that is Amazon, I came across David McCandless’ infographics atlas, The Visual Miscellaneum (also titled Information is Beautiful for the UK hardcover edition). As a total graph & data junkie I immediately sleuthed up some details around the author/designer, and found that, aside from the two books under his belt, the writer has contributed visual information & great writing to the likes of The Guardian, Tank, and one of my all-time favorites, Wired. Well, lucky for me, I got the chance to dissect The Visual Miscellaneum / Information is Beautiful page by page and ask David some questions about his approach to visualizing data in a world of rather staggering & bleak stats. Read on…

Lo's List /// The Visual Miscellaneum Calories In vs. Out
Copyright David McCandless, Courtesy of HarperCollins, from The Visual Miscellaneum

Q. First off, I would love to hear more about your creative process. Can you map out the steps/stages you go through when creating a visualization?

I find a subject that I’m curious about and research it. Or sometimes I have a question I want answering. I particularly love mashing up different sets of data to find hidden relationships between things: the story behind the story. Then I’ll spend a while mulling over different design styles. I try to link the design to the subject in some way. What color is this subject? What are the shapes of this subject? Sometimes it takes a few drafts to find the right metaphor. I usually do some hand-drawn sketches. Then I move onto screen work, creating images by hand in Adobe Illustrator CS4. It’s an amazingly powerful drawing package. Data visualization wise, it can output a few basic graphs, but otherwise, it doesn’t render data. That means, yes, I have to hand position every data point on every single image I create. And, yup, I am that anal.

Q. Describe your workspace!

You probably don’t want to know about my workspace. Trust me. If I say: “piles of stuff” is that enough? Books, magazines, clippings, photos. Stuff. Lots of Macs. I’d like to say I work in a minimalist, airy studio, but I don’t. The beautiful design concept of my book is at odds with my working environment. (Should have probably kept that secret.). It’s more of an engine room than a design studio. Smells like one too.

Q. Clearly a person in infographics must have a love affair with mapping, charts, factoids – were you always this way? Can you look back at your childhood and recognize the signs of your current career?

My youth was dominated by video games (I was a video game champion). So, I guess navigating virtual environments, mapping dungeons on graph paper, and looking at blocky graphics and pixels all influenced me.

Although, I got bored of playing video games pretty early. I started hacking them instead. I would rewrite the code to give myself infinite lives or to walk through walls. I sent my hacks to a magazine and they gave me my own column. That’s how I started out as a journalist at the age of 14.

Since then I’ve written about technology, the web, web culture and pretty much anything else that’s aroused my curiosity. Journalism taught me about story and how to structure information to keep it interesting.

Design is a more recent thing for me. I’ve been designing for around four years. The weird thing is that I’ve had no formal design training – I just “knew” how to do it. I guess it comes from being such a web/information junkie and looking at visual media all the time.

Lo's List /// The Visual Miscellaneum Types of Information Visualization
Copyright David McCandless, Courtesy of HarperCollins, from The Visual Miscellaneum

Q. I love your glossary of Types of Information Visualisation (above). Are there certain charts that prove more challenging to design and why? Are there some graphing structures that readers interpret with more ease than others, and why?

One of the most challenging graphics was Timelines: Time Travel in TV and Film. It’s such a tricky concept to visualize. I went through 36 drafts!

People tell me that graphs with recognizable symbols/icons/etc are the easiest to interpret. For example, anything that uses a world map, a human body or a silhouette of a face… My Salad Dressings visualization is popular because you get the info in a second – no need to look at a conventional recipe. Silhouettes are also a good convention. Because your big old pattern-recognizing brain can understand them in a millisecond.I think it’s getting easier to use experimental or highly graphical displays of information.

I think, generally, we’re bored of line charts and pie charts – years of dull graphs in school and even duller powerpoint presentations have worn these forms thin. We’re hungry for anything new.

Q. Your Left vs Right concept-map created quite a spirited string of comments on your site. Do you ever feel that mapping (based on stats and exactitudes) looses the very real area of gray that a subject such as politics carries?

Fair point. Like any map, an infomap just renders the contours of an area. You can’t get too detailed or you overwhelm the reader. I sometimes think of them as satellite photos of subjects. A 50,000 foot view, so you can see the rough layout and some of the detail. That can help begin your own journey into a subject. Your own zoom-in. The Left vs Right has some flaws for definite. Not least my own left-leaning bias! But it excites me because it’s a way to give shape and form to immaterial things like relationships, ideas and connections that only really exist in the “group mind” or inside peoples’ own stories and beliefs.

Q. Charts like International Number Ones and Stock Check display some pretty grim facts about today’s world. Do you ever find yourself recreating the same maps with your own, more optimistic statistics? if there was just one spread from your book that you could alter, which would it be?

If I could recreate any graph about climate statistics and substitute positive info – that would be the stand-out choice I think. But, if you look, the evidence is unflaggingly grim.

Lo's List /// The Visual Miscellaneum Poison vs. Remedy
Copyright David McCandless, Courtesy of HarperCollins, from The Visual Miscellaneum

Q. Fortunately, your book does have several light-hearted interludes. Let’s talk about The Poison and The Remedy diagrams: the source says Google… but were you curious enough to engage in some hands-on research? If yes, what was your personal favorite poison/remedy?

Martinis are my favorite poison. (I watch far too much Mad Men.) My favorite remedy? Full British and Medical. The only combo.

Q. Many of the topics in your book focus on the plight of countries, environment, individuals: has your awareness of these tough facts changed how you live your life? What do you hope others will do with this knowledge? Is there a way for readers who are particularly moved by an issue in your book to get involved and help change the numbers?

Good questions! If I’ve got the choice out of plane or train travel I’ll try to choose the latter, but in general I’m like anyone else: I try to maximize the “good” things I do and minimize the “bad” things – without getting too righteous about it. I think some of the environmental issues are overwhelming and it’s hard to know how to respond to them on an individual, practical level. Having an informed awareness of a difficult issue is the starting point. Often actions can naturally flow from that. I’m not very good at being prescriptive though.

Q. Did the results of any charts take you by surprise? Have you added or taken away any day-to-day rituals/products/foods based on your findings?

Yeah, doing Snakeoil and rifling through 3000 scientific studies on the effects of dietary supplements opened my mind. There’s so little evidence for the efficacy of supplements. Every time I walk past a health shop window I’m aghast at how much ineffective, overpriced bottles of snake oil are being sold. It’s outrageous.

Lo's List /// The Visual Miscellaneum Body By Insurance Value
Copyright David McCandless, Courtesy of HarperCollins, from The Visual Miscellaneum

Q. The Insurance Value Body is ROTFL hilarious!! How did the concept for the Body By… chart come about? Where and how does the format of each graph take shape? What kind of data makes for a good visualization? is there a set criteria that a topic must have to be an effective graph?

I can’t remember where that came from. I wanted to do a set of bodies visualized by different criteria. Insurance seemed like an obvious choice.

Often, it’s not the data itself that makes a good visualization, but the comparison with other data. Striking comparisons make brilliant graphics. So just one image of a body visualized by insurance would be quite interesting. But put it alongside three other datasets and you’ve got a page.

Lo's List /// The Visual Miscellaneum Selling Your Soul
Copyright David McCandless, Courtesy of HarperCollins, from The Visual Miscellaneum

Q. It would be fascinating to see how charts such as Selling Your Soul (above) would evolve over a longer period and if trends based on time, location, politics etc would emerge. Are you continuing to gather data for some of these? Any plans to turn certain charts into larger long-term investigations?

Yes! Selling Your Soul is a project that fascinated me. I’d love to collect long-term data and see what emerges. There’s scope for quite a few more books in that!

Q. Any plans for The Visual Miscellaneum posters? I saw a mention about it in the Left vs Right post and got very excited.

Yes! You’ll soon be able to buy my Left vs Right visualization in poster form. And a bunch of other posters too. Stay tuned! (I’ll keep saying that).

Lo's List /// The Visual Miscellaneum Pass The...
Copyright David McCandless, Courtesy of HarperCollins, from The Visual Miscellaneum

Q. There are oodles of facts in your book that would be very useful in the day to day: Which Fish are OK to Eat? Taste Buds, Not Nice, Pass the… Any plans for a portable version of these diagrams? An Information is Beautiful app perhaps?

That’s a great idea. I’ve yet to think about the range of possible spin-off products, but it’s exciting. I’ve got some interactive projects looming. Stay tuned!

Q. I’m assuming that the data for Making a Book is autobiographical. In retrospect do you still find the chart accurate?

Yes, although I guess it would be interesting to add a bits of data on say, amount of prosecco consumed during the week of publication. Or magnitude of flinch when I spot misprints in the finished copy. That’s getting less by the way. The making of the book was so intense, for a good few months after publication, I couldn’t look at the book without feeling sick. Now I look at it and think wow – it’s actually a pretty cool book. Mad, but cool.

David McCandless Closing Icon

Bookworm » Fuzzy Felted Book Box

February 18, 2010

Lo's List /// Etcetera's Book Box in Orange /// Available at Supermarket

Etcetera's Book Box in Orange available at Supermarket

What’s not to love? Perfectly simple concept + simply perfect execution = irresistible. These felted Book Boxes by Etcetera are constructed with naturally water-resistant felt and Danish wool by textile bigwig Kvadrat. At 15″ × 6″ × 6″, the bins are perfect for that rotating collection of paperbacks by your reading chair or to organize your quick reference books on your desk! Available in gray with an orange, blue, brown/black, or green base, the boxes are made to order so be sure to calculate in 2-3 weeks before they ship out… Oh, and they’ve got other goodies too…

More on Kelly Smith (half of Etcetera’s hubby/wife team) and her other gig, Filzfelt, coming up!

Geekology » WantWant! BookBook!

January 29, 2010

Twelve South's BookBook - Hardback Leather Case for the Macbook

Twelve South’s BookBook Macbook Cover

While we wait for the iPad (ugh… I can barely say the name without wincing) to get with the times (no flash? really?) we’re happy to stick to our trusty Macbook Pro as a primary portable computing device. So, in honor of the good old dog, get yourself a BookBook, the stellar invisibility cloaks laptop covers by Twelve South. The perfect clash of high- and low-tech! A computer hiding in a vintage book!? The covers – available in red or black – are made of rigid leather with a padded interior and handy elastic corners that hold the case to the computer when open. The BookBooks are also handcrafted and distressed to ensure that each item produced is unique. They even made the zippers to mimic old-fashioned ribbon bookmarks! Compatible with the 13-inch MacBook, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and 15-inch MacBook Pro. Also, be sure to check out Twelve South’s other Mac-dedicated products like their ingenious BackPack adjustable iMac shelf!

More BookBook Views!
Twelve South's BookBook - Hardback Leather Case for the MacbookTwelve South's BookBook - Hardback Leather Case for the Macbook

Bookworm » Have Some Modesty! Cover that Book Up!

January 11, 2010

Book City Jackets Artist's Edition No.2

The second set in Book City Jackets Artists Edition series featuring the work of Cheeming Boey, Michael Hsiung and Nishat Akhtar.

I just loved Back-to-School when I was a kid. Pacing the aisles of Staples, I made sure not to let a single thumbtack’s worth of office supplies slip past my scrutinizing eye. One of my favorite things to do was to wrap my textbook covers (mostly because I found the cover design so hideous). My mother helped me at first – she did it perfectly (as with every single thing the woman has wrapped over the years, from gifts to broken bones) but I soon took over the task and began using all sorts of materials for the eclectic covers. Of course, the books would become cluttered with doodles and notes as the term passed – something that lifted the simple piece of paper from utility to keepsake.

Well, we’re all grown now, and these elevated book covers from Book City Jackets are the perfect old fart version of the junior high classic. Although the first edition has sold out (featuring the work of Eveline Tarunadjaja, Matthew Caputo and Morgan Blair.), you can choose from the 2nd and 3rd Artists Editions featuring illustrations by Michael C. Hsiung, Nishat Akhtar, Cheeming Boey, Matt Cipov, Jing Wei, and R. Nick Kuszyk.

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