Visual Complexity by Manuel Lima

The recent (2011) Manuel Lima book “Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information” has made it onto a Wired magazine list.

Visual Complexity

The book includes a showcase and analysis of “the variety of contemporary visual depictions of complex networks”

The author is responsible for the site:
featuring a database of projects that visualize complex networks.

[Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Dec 02, 2011, edited Jul 21, 2015 ]

Complexity, Metcalfe’s Law and Simplicity

Complexity can be defined as the number of components of a system, the number of relations between those components and the level of asymmetry in the structure of relations.

see also: What is complexity? by F. Heylighen

Robert Metcalfe, inventor of the Ethernet, is also the author of Metcalfe’s Law which states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system.

In the July 2006 IEEE Spectrum, Bob Briscoe, Odlyzko and Tilly argue that Metcalfe’s Law is Wrong because it overestimates the value of each connection. Reed’s law, on the contrary, suggests that Metcalfe’s law underestimates the value of adding connections since each member of the network is connected to individuals as well as subsets of the whole.

Metalfe’s law is general enough to be applicable to many systems. It has been used recently, for example, to argue for the “exponential” benefits of RDF and the semantic web


“the value of your information grows exponentially with your ability to combine it with new information.”

source: RDF and Metcalf’s law

In considering simplicity (the opposite of complexity?) in the context of interface design, I thought that this recent article by Luke Wroblewski made a pragmatic distinction between perception and reality


Many of us carry a few preconceived notions about simplicity. We assume things that are easy to use don’t have a lot of options and, as a result, shouldn’t appear cluttered when we first encounter them. In the world of product design, this means plenty of whitespace, clear calls to action, and an overall reduction of content—in the form of visual elements such as type, images, lines, colors, shapes, and so on. When a product has these attributes, we are more likely to assume it is easy to use. It’s quite possible that it might not be, but the perception of simplicity is there.

Conversely, a perception of complexity can turn customers, clients, or business stakeholders off before they ever actually use a product. In a worst-case scenario, an evaluation based on an opinion that “this looks cluttered; therefore, it must be difficult to use” can prevent customers from ever even trying a product out. But as Don Norman recently suggested, an initial impression of complexity might actually be an artifact of a product’s simplicity. In “The Truth About Google’s So-called ‘Simplicity’[…]

source: Complexity of Simplicity in UX matters

[Edited from Photomedia Forum posts by T.Neugebauer Jun – Dec, 2006]