Jacques Bertin

Jacques Bertin

Jacques Bertin (born 1918) is a French cartographer and theorist, known from his book "Semiologie Graphique" ("Semiology of Graphics"), edited in 1967. This monumental work, based on his experience as a cartographer and geographer, represents the first and widest intent to provide a theoretical foundation to Information Visualization.Juan C. Dürsteler (2000-08). [http://www.infovis.net/printMag.php?lang=2&num=116 Interview with Jacques Bertin] . Retrieved 23 June 2008.]


Jacques Bertin was born in 1918 in Maisons-Laffitte. When he was 10, he received the first prize of cartography at primary school. He never had problems with drawing, and pursued interests including architecture, the teaching of drawing and cartography. Finally he ended up studying geography and cartography at the Sorbonne.

He became founder and director of the Cartographic Laboratory of the École pratique des hautes études (EPHE) in 1954 and director of education in 1957. In 1967 he became professor of the Sorbonne, [David P. Bickmore (1969). "Sémiologie Graphique: les diagrammes, les réseaux, les cartes by Jacques Bertin." In: "The Geographical Journal", Vol. 135, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), pp. 144-146.] and in 1974 he became director of education and director of the Geographical Laboratory of the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), which is part of the École pratique des hautes études (EPHE, VIe Section). [David Ruxton Fraser Taylor (1985). "Education and Training in Contemporary Cartography". p. viii] Later in the 1970s he became head of research at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS). [Edward Tufte (2006). [http://ils.unc.edu/courses/2006_fall/inls261_001/samples/presentations/session_slides/20061031.Tufte.ppt "Graphic Portrayal of Information"] . Presentation at ils.unc.edu. Retrieved 1 July 2008.]

In 1993 Bertin received the "Mercator-Medaille der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Kartographie". [ [http://www.dgfk.net/download/satzung.pdf Satzung der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Kartographie e.V.] . Retrieved 1 July 2008.]


Bertin's research interests were in the field of geography, cartography, and what is today called Information Visualization. His book "Semiologie Graphique" intended to provide a serious theoretical foundation of Information Visualization. Before as well as after his work, the interest in a theory of graphics had been traditionally low. In fact, today Information Visualization is still more a practice than a science, with a great amount of creativity but little serious work towards the integration of all this effort into a theoretical framework beyond "Semiologie Graphique".

emiology of Graphics

(2003). [http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0000S0 Jacques Bertin's Semiology of Graphics: new edition forthcoming?] . Retrieved 23 June 2008.] A quest for the reason of the ineffectiveness of graphics had led Bertin to reflect on how to make graphics in a way that could render them useful, identifying their visual variables and finding the rules to build graphics properly. In the line of Semiology, proposed by Ferdinand de Saussure as the science that studies the signs used in communication, Bertin proposed the study of the visual signs along with their “grammatical” rules. The basis of Bertin's Graphical Semiology is the acknowledgement that (in the words of Serge Bonin) “graphics is a set of signs that allow you to transcribe the existing relations of difference, order or proportionality amongst qualitative or quantitative data”. Bertin restricts the field of semiology of graphics, excluding musical notation, language and mathematics, systems “bound to the temporal linearity”. Juan C. Dürsteler (2000-08). [http://www.infovis.net/printMag.php?num=84&lang=2 Jacques Bertin’s Semiology of Graphics] . Retrieved 23 June 2008.]

Among the systems aimed at the visual sense that, unlike hearing, is non-sequential (we can look at whatever part of the picture, but a song has a start and a finish), he discards symbolics and art, the meanings of which depend on the relationships between the signs and are, hence, disputable. This way what remains finally is the “rational part” of the visual signs, that can be structured with a determined grammar. Graphic representation has a double function for Bertin: as an artificial memory and as a tool for discovery, bound to the huge power of visual perception.

Today, we can say that the graphic system of visual variables established and developed by Bertin represents an indispensable and universally recognized theory of the cartographic transcription of geographic information. Various cartographers have used and improved on Bertin's system. In the age of automation, GIS and multimedia, initial results in adapting Bertin's graphic system to the dynamic and also non-visual representation of information are now available. Today one can say that despite its fundamental character, Bertin's theory has proven to be very adaptable and open towards innovation. [W.G. Koch (2001). "Jacques Bertin’s theory of graphics and its development and influence on multimedia cartography". In: "Information Design Journal", Volume 10, Number 1, 2001 , pp. 37-43(7).]

Graphical variables

Bertin (1974) created a clear and logical symbol scheme in which symbols can be varied referring to graphical variables. [ [http://mapserver.gis.umn.edu/docs/howto/cartosymbols Construction of Cartographic Symbols — UMN MapServer ] ] He analyzed the information-carrying properties of graphical displays in terms of the conventions of ink placement on a page. Variously called “graphical variables” or “variables of the plane”, they include: Alan Blackwell (2003). [http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~afb21/publications/PPIG03.pdf "Cognitive Dimensions of Tangible Programming Languages"] . In: "Proceedings of the First Joint Conference of EASE and PPIG 2003", pp. 391-405.]
* size of marks,
* their orientation,
* colour,
* texture, etc.
* in addition to their position within a 2D coordinate frame. Each of these variables can be made to correspond to a dimension of information, with some restricted to expressing categorical or ordinal relations rather than the ratiometric relations of a continuous positional dimension. This framework is since updated by Alan MacEachren in 1995 and by Engelhardt in 2002.

Bertin's permutation matrices

Bertin's permutation matrices give simple and effective tools for the graphical analysis of data matrices or tables. In 1977 Bertin introduced a display and an analysis strategy for multivariate data with low or medium sample size. Bertin tries to make the information in a data set understandable. He does not fit models: he tries to provide simple tools to interrogate data. Antoine de Falguerolles, Felix Friedrich & Günther Sawitzki (1996). [http://www.statlab.uni-heidelberg.de/reports/by.series/beitrag.34.pdf "A Tribute to J. Bertin’s Graphical Data Analysis"] ]

The tools operate simultaneously on cases and variables, combining aspects otherwise separately encountered in cluster analysis (on cases) and principal component analysis or factor analysis (on variables). Bertin's approach has received attention over the years in various areas. It has been introduced to the SoftStat audience by P. Kremser in 1987, followed by various subsequent contributions. In the general fields of statistical data analysis and data visualization, however, it has received only marginal resonance.


Jacques Bertin has published numerous scientific maps, papers and articles on map making, semiology, graphical information and graphic processing.
* 1967. "Sémiologie Graphique. Les diagrammes, les réseaux, les cartes". With Marc Barbut [et al.] . Paris : Gauthier-Villars. (Translation 1983. "Semiology of Graphics" by William J. Berg.)
* 1969. "Etude et réalisation d'un dispositift de goniométrie et d'observation de formes d'onde, en large bande."
* 1976. "Experimental and Theoretical Aspects of Induced Polarization". 2 vol. With J. Loes. Berlin : Gebruder. Borntraeger.
* 1977. "Graphique et le traitement graphique de l'information". With Serge Bonin [et al.] .
* 1977. "La graphique et le traitement graphique de l'information". Paris : Flammarion, 1977, 273 p. (translation 1981. "Graphics and graphic information-processing" by William J. Berg and Paul Scott).
* 1992. "Harper atlas of world history". with Pierre Vidal-Naquet. N.Y. : Harper Collins.
* 1997. "Atlas historique universel. Panorama de l'histoire du monde". With J. Devisse, D. Lavallée and J. Népote. Genève : Éd. Minerve, 180 p.
* 2006. "Nuovo atlante storico Zanichelli / sotto la direzione di Pierre Vidal-Naquet ; direzione della cartografia".


External links

* [http://www.infovis.net/printMag.php?lang=2&num=116 Interview with Jacques Bertin]
* [http://www.infovis.net/printMag.php?num=84&lang=2 Jacques Bertin's Semiology of Graphics]
* [http://www.geog.fu-berlin.de/de/Karto/umn_karten/graphvar.shtml Graphische Variablen im UMN MapServer] de icon

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