fig 1 – London the big smoke

Tufte’s theory of micro-macrocosm is where smaller (micro) details come together to create a bigger (macro) meaning. I feel that this concept links well to travelling as visiting small parts of this big planet can help to create meaning in a person’s life, as St Augustine once said ‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.’

The above graphic showing places to visit in London is a good example of Tufte’s micro-macrocosm theory. Micro-macrocosm also includes elements from Tufte’s other concepts, which my chosen graphic also demonstrates.

Upon first examination, you can see the basic outline of central London with the River Thames running through the middle. Some individual graphics of famous London icons are layered over this, showing where they are located. This is a good example of the layering and separation theory. Here, the different layers are presented in a distinctive way and the viewer can comprehend all of the required information in a concise way, which is something Tufte advocated.

A closer inspection of these graphics then reveal the smaller details, which include various borough outlines, place names and numbered labels linked to a list of nine things to do in London. These different areas are all divided up in a similar size and format on the map, which is a great example of Tufte’s small multiples theory as it is displaying these small multiples in a way that doesn’t confuse the audience. These aspects of the graphic also demonstrate the use of colour to label information. Colour isn’t just an aesthetic choice, it is used to identify key parts of the map like land, area boundaries and water.

The individual aspects wouldn’t makes sense in isolation, but when combined together, they show the whole picture to the audience which is the map of London. In doing so, they create another layer of meaning in presenting the audience with a mostly visual way of presenting viewers with places to visit in London.


(fig 1) Gosling, L (n.d.) London map print [Poster]. Available online: https://www.mapsystudio.com/products/livi-gosling/london-map-print [Accessed 06/11/2020].

St. Augustine (n.d.) Augustine of Hippo quotes. Available online: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/6193-the-world-is-a-book-and-those-who-do-not [Accessed 06/11/2020].

Layering and Separation

fig 1 – map of amsterdam places you can visit with a wheelchair

The travel graphic above is an excellent example of Tufte’s layering and separation theory. All of the separate layers of information are shown in order of importance. The first layer that the viewer sees is the most important layer, here it is the graphics of the buildings to visit. The second layer is the main streets, and their names which are included in a darker shade of green. These streets stand out more than the side streets, which are displayed in white on the layer below. This shows that the side streets on the map are the least important pieces of information. The usage of different colours to label the different streets is also a good example of Tuftes colour theory.

Overall, the audience are able to easily differentiate each layer on the map and understand the separate pieces of information. This simplified method of communicating information is a concept that Tufte advocated. He believed that ‘Confusion and clutter are the failures of design’ (Tufte, 1990).

fig 2 – Visiting Tokyo poster

Above is another example of a travel poster that aligns with Tufte’s layering and separation theory. The posters aim is to showcase Tokyos top tourist sites to the viewer. Through the careful use of layering and separation, the poster doesn’t look cluttered. The designer has meticulously arranged each section of the buildings and locations using varying levels of fade. The bold and colourful bullet train and old buildings are in the top layer whilst Mount Fuji is on the bottom layer, faded to the point where it almost blends into the sky.

Compared to the graphic in fig 1, I don’t think that this poster is necessarily trying to highlight the key pieces of information in order of importance. I feel that in this poster’s usage of distinct layering and separation is to ensure the amount of information being shown isn’t too complicated or overwhelming.

I also feel that this poster shows some of Tufte’s micro-macrocosm theory. Here, all the smaller graphics of the tourist sites combine together and almost create a big view of the whole of Tokyo.


(fig 1) Rasink, S (2015) Map of amsterdam for beleef magazine. Available online: https://www.behance.net/gallery/25954645/Map-of-Amsterdam-for-Beleef-Magazine [Accessed 26/10/2020].

Tufte, E. (1990) Envisioning information. Cheshire: Graphics Press USA.

(fig 2) Displate/Studio 324 (n.d.) Visiting tokyo [Poster]. Available online: https://displate.com/displate/1250715 [Accessed 26/10/2020].

Narrative over a specific time within a specific space

fig 1 – Whitby night time-lapse

Above is a graphic by the digital artist Richard O’Neill. It illustrates the silhouette of Whitby’s lighthouses on the pier against a night sky full of star trails. ‘Star trails are the continuous paths created by stars produced during long-exposure photographs.’ They ‘reflect the earths rotation, or spin on its axis’ which usually takes a ‘period of about 23 hours and 56 minutes’ (McClure, 2019). The graphic is a good indication to the viewer of the passage of time through the patterns created over time by the stars. 

I feel that this graphic follows a similar principle to the example in which Tufte used for his space and time theory. His example demonstrated how you can show the narrative over space and time through the movements of the dancers feet. This was shown visually through the musical notes as the patterns on the floor. On my chosen graphic, the narrative of space and time was shown through the patterns created by the stars.

fig 2 – Trans world airline travel poster

Above is a travel graphic which aligns with Tufte’s theory of space and time. It’s a vintage travel poster for the airline company ‘Trans World Airline (TWA)’. The graphic depicts a TWA airplane flying over Manhattan in New York at either sunrise or sunset.

I feel that it shows a narrative over a specific space and time, mostly by the fact that the airplane is clearly visible in the image. It infers that it has either just embarked or is just arriving, either to or from the destinations listed underneath. The trails in the river created by the various boats indicate movement and time. The sunrise/sunset is also used on the poster to indicate that a certain amount of time has lapsed – either a new day is just dawning or the day is now ending. 


(fig 1) O’Neill, R (n.d.) Whitby night time-lapse [Poster]. Available online: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Whitby-Night-Timelapse-Art-Print/dp/B07KFNQ81G/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=whitby&m=A1PLXJE60ZIJLC&qid=1603100600&s=merchant-items&sr=1-4&th=1 [Accessed 19/10/2020].

(fig 2) Trans World Airlines/Soltesz, F (c. 1950’s) Manhattan, New York – trans world airlines twa – vintage airline travel poster [Poster]. Available online: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Manhattan-New-York-Airlines-Vintage/dp/B00JAUJN0O [Accessed 19/10/2020].

Small Multiples

fig 1, 2, 3 – Mini travel guides

Above are some mini travel guides. Each one includes information about what to do and where to go when travelling around various cities. This visual information is all presented in a concise way, a method which aligns with Tufte’s small multiples theory. This method of designing graphics is an efficient way to present information to the audience without it becoming too complicated. Travel guides are often presented in more detailed formats such as books which may be too overwhelming to the audience.  

They are part of a series of travel guides which all have this similar layout. Their design consistency aligns with Tufte’s small multiples theory.  By seeing similar designs that don’t have many changes, the audience is able to understand the information as they will already be familiar.

fig 4 – 15 tips to become a sustainable traveler 

This travel graphic is also a good example of Tufte’s small multiples theory. The graphic designer has divided the information about travelling sustainably into sections of the same size. These small sections coincide with Tufte’s idea of illustrations being ‘postage-stamp sized’. 

All of these sections are designed very similarly despite showing different information. This consistency shows how, by only changing a small variable in the graphic (in this case, the illustration and the text), the audience are able to understand the different information coherently. By changing the information but keeping the constancy of the design, this ‘puts the emphasis on changes in data’ Tufte, E (1990).

Overall, these graphics all show how, by refraining from making the information overly complicated, it can convey information with clarity. 


(fig 1, 2, 3) So she roamed (n.d.) Handy dandy mini travel guides. Available online: http://sosheroamed.com/mini-travel-guides/ [Accessed 14/10/2020].

(fig 4) Nomads RTW (n.d.) 15 sustainable travel tips to become a responsible traveller. Available online: https://www.nomadsrtw.com/travel-tips/sustainable-travel-tips/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes&utm_term=1017734958_46756542_372793 [Accessed 14/10/2020].

Tufte, E. (1990) Envisioning information. Cheshire: Graphics Press USA. 

Use of Colour


fig 1 – The London Underground tube map

An excellent example of a travel graphic that aligns with Edward Tufte’s label colour theory is the map of the London Underground. It was designed by Harry Beck in 1933 and uses colour to efficiently label information. Each tube line is colour coded, enabling the viewer to easily tell each one apart. This use of colour has been a vital part of why this design has been so successful and used for almost a century. Without this use of colour, the audience wouldn’t be able to distinguish between the different tube lines.

The use of the strong colours on a plain, neutral background are also advocated by Tufte. This high contrast helps the audience draw attention to most important features of the design. Too much colour would be visually confusing for the viewer and obscure the data that the map is attempting to communicate. 

The London Underground map is also a great example of a travel graphic which follows Tufte’s layering and separation principle. The information that is being presented to the audience is separated into various distinct layers, in order of importance. The main tube line part is the first thing the audience sees, but underneath this main layer there is also background layers which are presented in much lighter colours showing other information such as the travel fare zones and what side of the river the stations are on. By separating all of these layers, the information isn’t overwhelming but the audience is still able to see all of the necessary information.

fig 2 – Map of Norway

Above is a map of Norway, which was designed by Bek Cruddace for a travel article. It’s a good example of how colour is used to label information. The audience is able to easily understand that the blue area of the map is the sea and the green is the land. This is because these colours are so often found in nature that the audience is able to immediately associate them with the information conveyed on the map. 


(fig 1) Transport for London (2020) Tube map. Available online: http://content.tfl.gov.uk/standard-tube-map.pdf [Accessed 06/10/20].

Darien Graham-Smith (2018) The history of the tube map. Available online: https://londonist.com/2016/05/the-history-of-the-tube-map [Accessed 06/10/20].

(fig 2) Cruddace, B. (2018) Guardian travel road trip map. Available online: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2018/jul/22/norway-coast-fjords-road-trip-arctic-circle-holiday?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other [Accessed 06/10/20].