Cybu Richli

 
Swiss designer Cybu Richli
has a mission: to bring a lively, down-to-earth sensibility to
scientific charts and data graphs, those PowerPoint backwaters of
anti-design. In Richli’s universe, rubber bands twist into
vertebrae, children’s balloons swell like ripening avocados, and
hamburger packaging reflects a well-balanced financial
portfolio.

Richli argues that data visualization can and should be
intuitive, humorous—maybe even moving. “Unfortunately, a lot
of infographics aren’t informative or appealing,” he
says. “Making a great graphic requires functional thinking but
also aesthetics, independent-mindedness, even stubbornness to find that
really innovative way of explaining things.”

After a stint
studying architecture, he switched to graphic design and earned his
degree in 2004 from the University of Art and Design in Lucerne. Richli
founded his own studio and began turning out projects ranging from book
design and typography to an award-winning poster for cultural events at
a hilltop club in Lucerne. In 2005, he won a Swiss Federal Design Grant
and a Design Network Switzerland Award.

Visual Explanations,
his thesis that was nominated for the Design Preis Schweiz, transformed
snapshots of everyday objects into easy-to-understand metaphors for
scientific phenomena. The results take the reader through some magical
cognitive leaps—an expanding balloon resembles an avocado’s
growth pattern, and an umbrella’s spine evokes the flight of
birds. “I try not to set too many limits as I experiment, taking
notes about everything as I go,” he says. “I get all my
ideas and discoveries along the way.”

In 2005, Richli received
an invitation to reimagine the graphics for Morningstar, a Chicago-based
provider of mutual fund research. The company had already set industry
standards by reducing financial data to three items: a pie chart, a
triangle, and its trademark Style Box, a nine-square graphic that makes
it easy for investors to track their money through the stock market.
Philip Burton, a designer consultant for Morningstar, explains that they
asked Richli to consolidate these three images into one graphic device
so that investors could check a portfolio’s balance by several
measures in a single glance. The results took Morningstar’s
designers through a wild thought experiment, in which recognizable
shapes—hamburger packaging, a lake’s smooth
surface—incorporate all three sets of data and highlight
imbalances in the portfolio. Although Morningstar is sticking with its
current graphics system, Burton believes research like Richli’s is
the way a company moves forward. “It shook up our thinking,”
he says.

For now, Richli works from a studio “walled in by
books” with a black box full of drills, tools,
photographer’s lamps, and all the crazy objects that fascinate his
eye. He won’t speculate on future projects, but admits a weakness
for mixing things up even further. “Right now,” he says,
“I’d love to design a book or poster for a museum, a CD
cover for a rock band, and a new hat for Santa Claus.”

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Designer Profiles

About Jude Stewart

Jude Stewart is a PRINT contributing editor. She has written on design and culture for Slate, Fast Company, The Believer, I.D., Metropolis, and Design Observer, among many others. Her first book ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color is available for pre-order from Bloomsbury. Follow her tweets on color at twitter.com/joodstew.

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