In the catalogue ARCH 5201 is billed as a History & Theory seminar “on contemporary issues in architecture and allied fields of study” intended to serve as “a forum for a preliminary articulation of the thesis proposal.” Since professors were expected to customize the course, I asked whether I might teach it as a broad-based design class that would improve students’ thesis-writing skills by training them to present text, image and data in an integrated way.
The first month of the seminar was devoted to training in history and theory of information graphics, as exemplified in the publications by mentor Edward R. Tufte, who I had the good fortune to assist with the research for his 2006 book Beautiful Evidence. In the seminar students read Tufte’s first two books
and completed two assignments analyzing good and bad graphics according to his principles. Since there were eight case studies times thirty-five students this exercise made for an arduous amount of grading. In future I would likely have students write pithy Tufte-style analyses in the form of posts on the class Pinterest board, which would have the added advantage of promoting a communications tool and providing a cache of easily-accessible material for us all to consult throughout the term.
I encourages students to use Google Images searches (using the size function of the search tools to narrow the search to hig-res images) in coming up with their own examples. Other examples had to be taken from atlases in the Carleton University map library.
In addition to all four of Tufte’s books students received his poster reprinting the greatest data graphic ever made, Minard’s 1869 verbo-visual-numerical chronicling the losses of French soldiers in the Russian campaign of 1812-13.
When encouraging students to make their own designs I referred repeatedly to the Russian campaign map and a few other examples, such as Harry Beck’s iconic London Underground map. Although I was wary of offering concrete examples of project ideas I did refer to the lack of a good Carleton campus map–a challenge that was eventually taken up by separate teams working on above-ground maps and tunnel maps respectively. But as we shall see, most students came up with entirely original ideas.