Manuel Carrión: Diagrammatica Question 1

[This is the first of five questions about the the Diagrammatica ProjectThe questions were provided by Manuel Antonio Carrión Lira of the Design School at the University of Valparaiso, Chile (www.uv.cl).  An abstract of Manuel's research and the full set of questions can be viewed here.]

  • Manuel Carrión: About your project Diagrammatica. How were the diagrams selected? Which were the categories of diagrams, if there was any? What was the curatorial process like?

Diagrammatica began with the diagrams I collected during my Ph.D. studies in communication.  I have a particular interest in visual communication and spatial design and diagrams utilize the visual space of writing to communicate complex ideas in an innovative way.  I often found that diagrams and visual models were much more accessible than the written text describing communication processes and theories.  Diagrams place complex terms in relations of line and position rather than linguistic grammar.  This allowed me to focus on the terms in play rather than wrestling with the specifics of grammatical form (nouns and verbs and prepositions, etc.).  Unlike text, which has a single line of argument, diagrams can be navigated in multiple directions.  If you reach a roadblock in understanding the posited spatial relationship of two terms, you can always back up and pursue another line of connection—another line of flight.  Or you can zoom out to contemplate the aesthetic pattern as a whole. Linguistic text can be very specific, which makes language powerful.  But it can also limit the points of entry: it has a specific beginning.  Diagrams offer multiple points of entry and are therefore more user-friendly than blocks of written text. My interest in the diagram arose from its openness.

As time went on, I began looking for more diagrams to add to the collection.  And I needed to make some choices.  Is a flowchart a diagram?  Is a beautiful visualization of scientific data a diagram?  There is actually a wide range of artifacts that design bits of text in spatial layouts and geometric relations.  I decided to emphasize diagrams that represent abstract concepts (of the social sciences and humanities) in a visual way.  I’ve alternatively labelled these objects as “Theory Pictures” and “Conceptual Diagrams.”  But I still like the simple openness of the name diagram.  Rather than positively defining the diagram, I’ve found it more useful to limit inclusion.  As a loose set of guidelines, I exclude the following:

  • Genealogical Charts and Hierarchical Tree Structures
  • Classification Grids and Coordinate Systems
  • Euler circles and Venn diagrams
  • Representations of numerical or statistical data
  • Models of phonological or linguistic structures

I also shy away from simple flowcharts or cyclical diagrams that simply complete a circle.  I’m particular averse to diagrams in which every element relates to every other element.  These seem to argue for everything and nothing at the same time.

The complete collection is currently much larger than what is available online.  I have well over a hundred diagrams, and I’m working to rebuild and expand the website.  The new structure will open up the collection.  So there will be both focused curatorial galleries as well as a submission interface in which visitors can post and upload and comment on the diagrams.  I’m currently looking for designers to help with the interface and coding work.  I’d really like to crowdsource the identification and upload process.  Not only would the collection become more robust, it would also gather a community of diagram scholars. The site could then curate the submissions according to genre, design, discipline or whatever other patterns arise in the collection process.