Speak Without Words

By: Robert

That is what design is all about.

How does one communicate a feeling, a thought, an idea to a wide range of people who have different experiences, different understanding, different points of view purely through a visual representation? And what happens when that idea becomes more and more complex? Take wine for example, it is complex, it has all manner of classification and variety, each with a surprising number of subtle nuances. How would one explain wine, a topic of much interest here at Merlot, to a relative novice?

This is how.

This information map was crated by Carl Tashian of NYU in order to explain the complexities and characteristics of various wines. It is an exceptional piece of design, explaining a hugely complex subject with a fair amount of organization, ingenuity and a system that allows for quick assimilation of the information required for understanding of the complexity that wine has to offer.

The piece began with research of more than 5,000 published wine tasting notes over five years. This gave the designer a base of words from which to create the foundation of this map. Foundation is important, especially in this case as it give the viewer a boundary, a limit to the amount of information that they will be asked to keep track of at any given time. A complex system like this is actually made less complex by presenting all the information at the onset and not by bringing in new information at each new step of the process.

So we have our foundation, our language library from which we are going to describe the wines. But not all of these words are directly comparable, how does “powerful” compare to “spice”? They aren’t necessarily describing the same type of sensation one would get from the wine. So a breakdown of our foundation is required. Lets call them categories. In this case there were four categories identified FLAVOR, AROMA, CHARACTERISTIC and SENSATION. Excellent! By creating categories Tashian has achieved two very desirable results; one, he has given us an explanation to which we can apply each of our words. Words like spice, peach, aniseed and earth are assigned to the flavor category, while words like oak, leather and vanillin are assigned to the aroma category. Second, a layering of information has been created, so that the user can now chose which category of information is most important in their selection of a wine.

So our foundation and categorization have taken over 5,000 publications and distilled them into a fairly digestible piece. Now comes time for implementation. How is all the information conveyed to the user?
Tashian started with a list of wines and a static position for the wine being analyzed, and connected each wine to the specific words that it was most often identified with in the original source documents. But the system still continues to distill the information. The frequency of the words occurrence affects both the thickness and value (darkness) of the line.


This is an EXCEPTIONAL piece of design. Tashian has taken over 5,000 articles reviewing wines with countless descriptors of said wines and has made a simple, beautiful system by which one can both start to understand wine and possibly use to select wine to begin tasting. Who thought good design could taste so good…