September 15, 2019

What Story Does This Picture Tell?

In this post, I wanted to try my hand at visualizing qualitative information. I created the graphic above this week to see if I could create an educational graphic that was visually interesting. I was inspired by the work of artists like Antoine Corbineau. I love his use of color and the cartoon-like feel of his work. My visual consists of a group of staged computer graphics that I created this week.

Take a moment to look at my graphic. How did I do? Do you know what I was attempting to say?

My Picture’s Story

My picture’s story—the viewer has flown (or is flying) commercial to America and he or she takes a look out the window and sees a diverse series of items invented in the United States. It showcases a portion of America's contribution to technology, showcases the country's ingenuity. The inventions are arranged in an I SPY fashion. I loved viewing Walter Wick’s work as a kid.

The inventions shown were inspired by a Nicholas Eftimiades’, a professor at Penn State University, blog post.

My graphic includes the following inventions:

  • Potato chips – George Crum, 1853
  • Phonograph – Thomas Edison, 1877 (Disc record created Emile Berliner in 1887).
  • Electric light bulb – Thomas Edison, 1879
  • Cotton Candy – William Morrison & John C. Wharton, 1897
  • Mousetrap – William C. Hooker, 1894
  • Electric traffic light – Lester Wire, 1912
  • Sunglasses – Sam Foster, 1929
  • Chocolate chip cookies – Ruth Wakefield, 1930
  • Microwave oven – Percy Spencer, 1945
  • Credit cards – Ralph Schneider & Frank X. McNamara, 1950
  • Compact Disk – Jack Russel, 1965
  • Kevlar – Stephanie Kwolek, 1965
  • Personal computer (Kenbak-1) – John Blankenbaker, 1971
  • Cell phone – Martin Cooper, 1973
  • Space Shuttle – George Mueller, 1981
  • Computer mouse – funded by U.S. Government, 1980s


Let’s start with the stage. The frame of the picture is the interior of an airplane; the focus is the window. This symbolizes travel, taking a journey.


The shuttle wing informs viewers which country’s contributions are shown.


The inventions are staged in random order to create a fun I SPY-ish collage. This is a common technique in information design. Paolo Ciccarelli, Head of Density Design, explains, “When the main narrative doesn’t hinge upon strict sequences, we often conceive our visual stories like a panorama, where the eye is free to wander…It’s the viewer’s choice which part of the story to follow, which arguments to combine.”

I wanted to stick my "panorama" into the confines of an airplane window. I made this choice to foster a journey narrative for my graphic. You could say the audience is flying through a small, select history of American inventions.


I built every element in the graphic from scratch using Adobe Illustrator. I started with the plane window, my stage. Using reference images gathered from the web, I built the sixteen inventions on their own. Finally, I randomly placed the images in a way where most were partially obscured but—hopefully—still recognizable. I also varied their sizes. I did this to create multiple entry points for the eyes and create visual interest. Partially obscured elements tap into our innate enthusiasm for puzzles.