Visualizing Complexity: Dataviz book review

We love the smell of new dataviz books in the morning… and ‘Visualizing Complexity’ is about as new as it gets! Written by (super-cool) information design agency Superdot from Basel (Switzerland) and published in May 2022, it contains an excellent analytical overview of the modular design system they developed over the past 10 years.

Visualizing Complexity: Modular Information Design Handbook

The book

The book, which arrived with a nice and friendly signed postcard, is printed on heavy high-quality paper, with a sturdy cardboard cover. A bit smaller than we expected, at 23 by 16 centimeters, it has a compact and inviting look and feel. The colors, fonts and layout are very reminiscent of the famous Bauhaus design movement, and despite the very intense, saturated color scheme, the design rarely overpowers the actual content. To be honest: it’s been lying on our desk for a week now, just to show off its beautiful design 😇

Visualizing complexity by Superdot: interior

The highly structured book is divided into five parts:

  • Data dimensions: different ways of presenting and processing datasets
  • Diagrammatical dimensions, visual dimensions and structuring dimensions: a total of 80 elements which can be used to create shapes, arrange them, and make them visually distinguishable based on the different data dimensions
  • Multidimensional visualizations: examples of the Modular Information Design system breaking down powerful data visuals to show how they are built from combinations of these 80 elemental dimensions

The authors

Darjan Hill and Nicole Lachenmeier are the founders of information design agency Superdot (previously Yaay), which has grown into a well-known multidisciplinary team of information designers, developers and storytellers. They combine a background in Business Informatics (Darjan) and Visual Communication (Nicole) into a unique blend allowing them to approach information visualization challenges from a wide variety of perspectives.

Besides serving an impressive list of clients, winning many awards, and being involved in multiple teaching and mentoring program, Superdot is the initiator of the “On Data And Design” event series, and a pioneer in the field of DX – Data Experience Design.

The verdict


With our background in science, the highly analytical approach of Visualizing Complexity resonates strongly with us. It is a welcome update of Jacques Bertin’s visual variables concept, with a bigger focus on combining different variables/elements to construct multidimensional and multi-layered visualizations.

The exactly 80 elements, consisting of 25 diagrammatical, 40 visual, and 15 structuring dimensions might feel a bit contrived at times, but on the other hand it is also a very complete overview. We’ll definitely browse through this book during future projects, to ensure we’ve covered as many different visual ideas as possible.

Visualizing complexity: book content

What we’re missing a little bit in this book is an evaluation of how powerful each of these elements are. In the many examples in the final section of the book, it is clear how some elements (e.g. color hue) are much more prominent than others (e.g. contour details). Therefore, some of them are very logical choices for certain data dimensions, and others are less logical or way too subtle to clearly tell the story we want to tell in our visual. This evaluation is left to the reader to experience as a part of experimentation process – which is probably a good thing, as it could be quite dependent on the exact data.

All in all, this is a book that has definitely earned a prominent place on our dataviz bookshelf – a must have for everyone who wishes to understand the analytical thought processes behind strong data visuals!

More dataviz book reviews? We have already covered:

Read more:

Amazing facts about the brain - teaser

Infographic: Amazing facts about the brain

Did you know that our brain makes up 2% of our body weight, but consumers about 20% of our energy? Did you know that we have a second brain, located in our gut?

Our information designer Sofia made this insightful infographic, giving you an overview of eight amazing facts about the brain!

More info

Birthday heatmap

How common is your birthday?

Not all birthdays are created equal... in fact, for most countries in the north temperate zone, more people are born in summer (May - August) than in winter (October - January). This heatmap allows you to check how popular your birth date is. It shows the number of people in Belgium for each specific birthday.

More info

This chart is trying to trick you

The original chart in this example is trying to suggest a strong correlation between sugar intake and obesity in the US between 1980 and 2000. It does so by carefully choosing the vertical axis ranges and scaling so both lines nicely fall on top of each other.

More info

Books on a bookshelf - infographics resources

Research visuals: all the resources you’ll ever need!

If you want to start creating clear and attractive visuals about your research, but don't know where to start, this page is for you! Here's a complete overview of tools, resources and inspiration you can use as a starting point for your designs.

More info

Small datasets to practice your data visualization skills

When you're teaching data analysis or data visualization, or when you're learning new data visualization tools and techniques, you might be looking for datasets to practice with. Here are some great starting points.

More info

Graphical abstract for Ghent University PSYNC research

How to create a graphical abstract

Graphical abstracts are becoming more and more important. Journal publishers such as Elsevier encourage you to create a concise visual summary of the main findings of your research. But where to start? What steps should you follow to create the perfect graphical abstract for your article? What tools can you use?

More info

We are really into visual communication!

Every now and then we send out a newsletter with latest work, handpicked inspirational infographics, must-read blog posts, upcoming dates for workshops and presentations, and links to useful tools and tips. Leave your email address here and we’ll add you to our mailing list of awesome people!