John Grimwade: Infographics for the People

Illustrator, designer, and educator John Grimwade has started a great blog on information design and data visualization called Infographics for the People.

For his posts, Grimwade pulls together contemporary infographics, historical examples and samples from his prolific career working with newspapers, magazines, books and corporate clients. From his mission statement:

I’m trying to promote infographics that engage the general public. There is a trend towards elitist visualizations, that seem like they might be designed for data geeks. Of course, visual communication is a powerful way to help people understand, but first we have to get people on our side. Be inclusive, not exclusive. And never forget that a sense of fun is an important component in getting our message across. Infographics for the People!

He critiques his old work with self-deprecating humour and encourages readers to learn from his mistakes and to think critically when creating our own work.

Infographics for the People by John Grimwade

Todd Detwiler

Todd Detwilier - Gulfstream Jet

Todd Detwiler is the Design Director at Popular Science magazine and an accomplished illustrator in his own right. At PopSci he is responsible for fusing design, photography and illustration with stories of science and technology’s bleeding edge. As an illustrator he brings his technical aesthetic to the pages of TIME, ESPN and Washingtonian.

What’s your background? How did you get started in editorial design?

My junior year of college I secured an internship with Maxim magazine. It was the result of a funny letter I wrote to the then-art director David Hilton – who got a kick out of the flippant humor and gave me a call. I had interviews at Details and Rolling Stone as well, but Maxim offered me the internship and I moved from rural PA to New York the next week.

I was really at Maxim at the right time. Felix Dennis had brought his lad-mag over from the UK and it was lighting the magazine world on fire. It was there that I met people who would shape my career in magazines and illustration. I graduated a year later from Kutztown University and started working for Maxim full-time. Along with some junior design work, I was the resident icon artist and occasional spot illustrator. I was cheap (free) for the company, and I was just happy to have some work in print. It was a win-win really.

In 2005 I left Maxim and started working at Rolling Stone before being offered an attractive Art Director position with Hearst working on the development of a new Men’s Magazine. The project didn’t pan out and I started a freelance design career which took me around the publishing houses of New York and abroad until I settled down with Popular Science in 2011.

Todd Detwilier - Anatomy of a Water Park
What do you do as Design Director at Popular Science?

As the DD of Popular Science, I led the team responsible for the 2014 redesign, along with an overhaul of the logo and brand guidelines. On a day to day basis, I do all the typical art department work loads – hire illustrators, design pages for features and front of book, brainstorm photo concepts, etc. It’s a small but talented art team at Popular Science – and I give them a lot of credit for making the magazine smart and efficient.

Todd Detwilier - Anatomy of Home Delivery
What makes for a good illustration? What can illustration do that photography can’t?

The best illustration communicates an idea quickly and clearly with some personality. I would also add that the process of commissioning the illustration makes it a “good” illustration. If deadlines are met and the work matches what is expected – that makes everyone’s life easier.

Photography can be expensive. With an illustration you can build a world that is immersive at a fraction of the cost. You can also build uniformity with illustration that can be a struggle with photography if you are using pick-up art from multiple sources. Both have a place in Popular Science, and we are very conscience of the balance in every issue.

Todd Detwilier - Luggage Checkpoints
What do you think makes the technical illustration aesthetic so popular in magazines?

Well, it’s been around for awhile, hasn’t it?! I was just looking at an instruction manual from the 60s the other day that was amazingly drawn. My hat goes off to the illustrators that were so meticulous with ink and pen. It’s a lot easier with a mouse and “command+z”..

Regarding the aesthetic, I think the thick rules on the outside give the objects separation and weight, and the thin lines detail and clarity. People love exploded views because they can see what’s happening on the inside – something the PopSci reader loves. Ultimately, I think the style of illustration removes clutter and anything unnecessary to reveal the essence of the subject. It circles back to direct communication, free of any additional interpretation for the viewer.

Todd Detwilier - Car Buyers
In addition to your role at PopSci, you also moonlight as an illustrator. What drives you to illustrate?

I love illustration as much or if not more than editorial design. But what actually drives me to create illustrations is seeing the work of others. I’m constantly impressed with the level of design being generated by artists, and I can’t help but be inspired to create and learn.

Todd Detwilier - Ninja Warrior
What do you see for the future of publishing or illustration? Any advice for new illustrators or students?

The future of publishing is digital with print declining over the next 5 to 10 years. Illustrators need to be quick and consistent. I see enormous opportunity for illustrators in the digital News sphere. When breaking news happens, how fast can you turn out an editorial perspective, or even better – a comprehensive breakdown of what has happened or is happening. The world demands answers immediately and if you can act quickly, you’ll be very successful. Also, take your phone out of your pocket – that’s your new canvas – get used to it!

Popular Science - April 2014
You worked with Graham Murdoch on the Electric Racecar project for PopSci. What was that like?

He’s just the best. I’ve been working with him since the Maxim days and he has always made me look good. For the Formula E assignment I sent him a bunch of scrap art and he was able to build out the entire car based on the reference I sent along with his own research. When it came to “exploding” everything apart, I know he spent a lot of time meticulously unscrewing every bolt and washer. The result was amazing, and it set the bar high for everyone in the magazine.

Big thanks to Todd for his time. You can find his work at and on newsstands everywhere.

Mapbox – Design Beautiful Maps

Mapbox Sample Map

Mapbox enables you to easily design and use beautiful maps, selecting your own colors, typography, imagery, textures and line qualities from their vast and flexible toolbox. Then you can add points of interest and data from Pinterest, Foursquare, Github, spreadsheets and more.

This looks like it would be great for everything from an on-brand locator map to some serious big-data number crunching.

Hat tip to Davvi for the suggestion!

Vector Scribe Illustrator Plugin

I’m excited to introduce to you a new plugin suite for Adobe Illustrator, VectorScribe by Astute Graphics.

VectorScribe fills the gaps in Illustrator’s toolbox. These tools give you intuitive yet precise control over your points, paths and shapes—without creating Effects or file incompatibilities across versions of Illustrator. VectorScribe lets you work with your vectors instead of around them.

I’ll go into detail about each tool in the suite later, but in the meantime have a look at some videos and check out the free 7 day trial.

Full disclosure: I was a volunteer beta tester for this software and received a complimentary copy.

VectorScribe by Astute Graphics – $119

Full disclosure: As a beta tester, I received a complimentary copy of this plugin.

Style versus Communication

Style vs Visual Communication

I’ve been meaning to write about style — the design and arrangement of visual elements that creates a tone or voice in an illustration, throughout a project, or across an illustrator’s entire body of work. More specifically, how style conflicts and complements with a technical illustrator’s role of visual communication.

This critique of dozens of newspapers’ adaptations of an Associated Press graphic serves as a great introduction to the topic. News graphics veteran Charles Apple dissects the minute decisions made by the various papers’ editors in the name of visual appeal, visual communication, story telling and branding.

Is technical illustration more about visual communication or style?
How do you compromise between the two?

[A Look at Tuesday’s Graphics-Heavy bin Laden Presentations]

Adobe Illustrator Gripes & Feature Wishlist

I’m going to have the ear of 3-4 developers from Adobe’s Illustrator team sometime in the next few days. They want to know what makes our life difficult, and what would make it easier. What are your gripes, pain points, repetitive stress injuries? What is your dream feature? What are you accomplishing with plug-ins that should really be built in?

Let me know in the comments, or by editing the fancy Google Doc after the jump.

Read More

Oil Spill Illustration Roundup

The biggest news story of the past two months is highly technical and happening beneath 5,000 feet of water. These obstacles make technical illustration the obvious medium for telling the story. Collected here are illustrations and graphics from various sources, showing their visual approach to communicating the information. (Mouseover for source, click for larger version)

The New York Times‘ illustrations are well designed and executed in a graphic style typical for newspapers. Black lines delineate the key information, both a visual strategy and a production consideration (black prints well on grainy paper in fast presses, since it’s a single plate). Deep-red lines and arrows call the eye’s attention to important details. Light colour tones provide additional information such as material, dimension/shading, or simply visual separation. A variety of views are used, elevations, isometrics, perspectives, whatever suits the content. Nice stuff here.

Infographic World‘s ambitious graphic attempts to tell the entire story, relying heavily on text, but ends up feeling cluttered, unfocused and disorganized. The individual illustrations feel underdeveloped.

NOLA/Times-Picayune‘s graphics are similar in style to The Times’, but with a much thicker line weight which makes me think they might have appeared smaller in print. The multitude of arrows really get in the way of the information. A bit heavy handed.

The Economist is a weekly news magazine, but the illustration doesn’t have much to show for the extra time (to be fair, there’s no telling what sort of turnaround time the illustrator was given).

BP employs slick [no pun intended] 3D renderings to communicate the company’s repair efforts and give the impression of openness and transparency. I have two problems with this. First, they feel expensive. I imagine BP already had a 3D model library of all their equipment for planning and presentation purposes, so this may very well be the most cost-effective visual solution for them. But the impression these polished 3D renderings give is that they’re spending a lot on visuals, when they should be devoting all their resources to the repair and cleanup process.

Secondly, 3D renderings feel like constructed illusions rather than explanatory depictions of their efforts. Maybe it’s my bias towards illustration since both are just as artifical (ie. not photographs or videos), but I find The Times’ illustrations more trustworthy than BP’s 3D world.


The New York Times. “Methods That Have Been Tried to Stop the Leaking Oil”
Infographic World. “Crude Awakening” “Oil Spill Graphics”
The Economist. “Mudslinging”
Unified Command for the BP Oil Spill. “Graphics”
BP. “Gulf of Mexico Response”

Have you seen any additional illustrations of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill? Let us know in the comments!

Max Gadney

Max Gadney - Spitfire Infographic

Max Gadney - Spitfire Infographic

What’s your background? Where do you live, where did you go to school, how long have you been illustrating?
I live in London and went to Middlesex University. I trained in graphic design but have always been interested in information graphics. When I led the team at BBC News Online, half of my team were info-graphics people, so I got into it again in a big way. Towards the end of my time there I started doing work for WWII Magazine, after meeting their editor at a conference (luckily with a load of pre-drawn graphics – including the assault rifle one.)

Are you a freelancer or in-house?
At BBC News, I was in-house. Most info-graphics people who work in the news that I know are in house. My WWII magazine work is freelance.

Software of choice?
Illustrator. Wacom tablet. SketchUp for 3d basics (that I then trace). Being a freelancer and doing this around my day job, I’m finding the iPhone good for drafting scripts on the go & in cafes. I also carry around various sketchbooks. I also made a book of magazine templates ready to scribble on using InDesign created PDFs uploaded and printed as sketchbooks at

Max Gadney - Process

Max Gadney - Process

Favorite clients/jobs?
Being at the BBC for 10 years of major stories was very good. Iraq wars, Elections, London/NY/ terror attacks/ tsunami etc all made for important moments to use visual storytelling. Some of the best infographics were done for the daily small stories. A newsroom lives by its ability to do the smaller stuff well – not just the big specials.

WWII Magazine is a great team to work with – Bill and Caitlin in senior editorial are really constructive with their feedback and Wendy the Art Director always edits a little too. The final results are always better than what I first send – any creative person needs a good editor – a good second pair of eyes. We have a simple back and forth of iteration. Any major disagreements would be hard to resolve with remote working at this distance (I’m in London – they are in Virginia) – so it’s great that I totally trust them.

Max Gadney - Silent Wings Over Normandy

Max Gadney - Silent Wings Over Normandy

Any advice for illustrators just starting out?
Focus on an area that interests you as you will only be top class if you can alter the editorial story of the work. Don’t just be a drawing robot. Seek to inform, to question, to understand first what you then intend to pass on as edited and better articulated knowledge.

Hang out where people are – go to conferences – go to the bar at conferences – talk to people at conferences. That’s what I did and that is why I have the WWII gig.

I think video skills are becoming important – but most important is the ability to understand a problem – to be curious and ask questions about what readers or viewers would want to know – no just figure out how best to draw the thing(s).

On business – The writer Drucker said that the purpose of a business is to make customers. You will need to get out there. Read The E-myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber, all about creating your own business. Designers can be very insular, you will need to get our there and hustle for work.

Max blogs about his process, infographics and visual communication at His work can also be seen on


Hello, welcome to After a ton of searching for a website or forums dedicated to Technical Illustration I realized, to the best of my knowledge, that there was a serious lack of content out there. At most you usually find a post or 2 about how to draw in isometric or a random interview with Kevin Hulsey. I mean we don’t even have our own magazine! I know we are a pretty small, niche group but there are enough of us out there to justify creating a new site where we can all exchange ideas, tips, network with each other and hopefully get and give inspiration along the way.

I got a hold of James about my idea for a site and he just happened to be thinking the same thing and he moved ahead full steam to get this site going, so thanks James. We also welcome contributions from anyone, so if you have an idea or suggestion for the site, leave it in the comments or send an email to

Please keep checking back in as we will be updating it often.
Thanks and I hope you will enjoy the site.