Swiss designer Cybu Richlihas a mission: to bring a lively, down-to-earth sensibility toscientific charts and data graphs, those PowerPoint backwaters ofanti-design. In Richli’s universe, rubber bands twist intovertebrae, children’s balloons swell like ripening avocados, andhamburger packaging reflects a well-balanced financialportfolio.
Richli argues that data visualization can and should beintuitive, humorous—maybe even moving. “Unfortunately, a lotof infographics aren’t informative or appealing,” hesays. “Making a great graphic requires functional thinking butalso aesthetics, independent-mindedness, even stubbornness to find thatreally innovative way of explaining things.”
After a stintstudying architecture, he switched to graphic design and earned hisdegree in 2004 from the University of Art and Design in Lucerne. Richlifounded his own studio and began turning out projects ranging from bookdesign and typography to an award-winning poster for cultural events ata hilltop club in Lucerne. In 2005, he won a Swiss Federal Design Grantand a Design Network Switzerland Award.
Visual Explanations,his thesis that was nominated for the Design Preis Schweiz, transformedsnapshots of everyday objects into easy-to-understand metaphors forscientific phenomena. The results take the reader through some magicalcognitive leaps—an expanding balloon resembles an avocado’sgrowth pattern, and an umbrella’s spine evokes the flight ofbirds. “I try not to set too many limits as I experiment, takingnotes about everything as I go,” he says. “I get all myideas and discoveries along the way.”
In 2005, Richli received an invitation to reimagine the graphics for Morningstar, a Chicago-basedprovider of mutual fund research. The company had already set industry standards by reducing financial data to three items: a pie chart, atriangle, and its trademark Style Box, a nine-square graphic that makesit easy for investors to track their money through the stock market.Philip Burton, a designer consultant for Morningstar, explains that theyasked Richli to consolidate these three images into one graphic deviceso that investors could check a portfolio’s balance by severalmeasures in a single glance. The results took Morningstar’sdesigners through a wild thought experiment, in which recognizableshapes—hamburger packaging, a lake’s smoothsurface—incorporate all three sets of data and highlightimbalances in the portfolio. Although Morningstar is sticking with itscurrent graphics system, Burton believes research like Richli’s isthe way a company moves forward. “It shook up our thinking,”he says.
For now, Richli works from a studio “walled in bybooks” with a black box full of drills, tools,photographer’s lamps, and all the crazy objects that fascinate hiseye. He won’t speculate on future projects, but admits a weaknessfor mixing things up even further. “Right now,” he says,“I’d love to design a book or poster for a museum, a CDcover for a rock band, and a new hat for Santa Claus.”