I have been wanting to talk about cutaways for a while and there is so much to them that this will just be getting some thoughts in order - one of many posts on general Information Graphics issues.
I was walking to work this morning and I walked past a Fire Station, where one of the engines was out the front with all it's side panels up.
I could see all the stuff inside and I went round the other side and a confused fireman said I could take a picture.
It's a real life diagram of where everything is kept.
There are no lines, or 3D or clever pencilling - this is what it is. In many graphics there is alot of stuff that we seem to put in the way pf explainations when a simple photo will do.
I'm not going to go to the effort of labeling it all but you could see where this could have gone.
And it is also important to not have it floating in white space, but subtley edited, still in context, yet highlighted.
When I got to work I had a look at a soon to be published book of Eagle Comic Cutaways that we had been sent.
They hold a lot of charm in their nostalgic qualities, possibly the visual equivalent of childhood smells, yet - (sorry to ruin the magic here John - I know you're a fan) - they slightly miss the point when it comes to explaining things.
By putting all their eggs in the Cutaway basket, they miss out on the purposes and invention of the tech that they celebrate. The one above does feature a little of extra info - but there is little doubt what the main event is.
A cutaway is a basic graphic - the state of things made clear, like a graph with one variable of data, rather than seeking to draw comparison, reasoning, correlation or causation. The danger is that they celebrate the basic rendering rather than information imparting. They are doubtlessly beautiful but I wonder to what end.
Weirdly enough, here is a fire engine (there wasnt one in the book) by the most famous artist of eagle cutaways Leslie Ashwell Wood. (for sale if you want)
He also did some very interesting WWII illustrations- here on the UK national Archives site. You can zoom in and see the paint/ gouache/ white-out. V.cool.
They are fantastic. So maybe I have been a bit hard on them.
I'll leave the final word to a pal, Jack Schulze, who bought me in to talk graphics with his students at the Central a few years ago.
I showed them this NYT graphic for the Gulf War II - they apparently bought up a load of technical illustrators in the US for this period.(NYT fans should check Shan Carter's site too)
It is an Apache Gunship and in the paper you can see every nut and bolt.
Jack said "What am I going to do? Build one?"
I like that comment - on the one hand it shows the futility of showing that amount of detail to the average reader - yet it belies the reasons that people (especially tech minded ones) like cutaways - because they are not reading about where an engine is on a rocket ship - they are dreaming about building one.