Manuel Lima


Manuel Lima FRSA (born May 3, 1978) is a Portuguese-American designer, author, and lecturer known for his work in information visualization and visual culture.[1][2][3][4] WIRED describes Lima as “the man who turns data into art”[5] and Forbes magazine says "Manuel has helped elevate information visualization to an art form."[6] He is the author of three books translated into several languages and currently resides in New York City with his wife and two daughters.

Manuel Lima
Born (1978-05-03) May 3, 1978 (age 44)
Alma materParsons School of Design
OccupationDesigner, Lecturer, Advisor, Author.
Known forvisual culture, design, information visualization, graph drawing, tree structure.


Lima grew up in São Miguel Island, in the Azores. From an early age Lima has shown an interest in the visual language of maps, many of which were kept in a cabinet at home from various family road trips. His dad has also been an important catalyst in his appreciation for design.[7]

In 1996, at the age of eighteen, he moved to Lisbon to pursue a BFA degree in Industrial Design from the Faculty of Architecture at Technical University of Lisbon. After an internship in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the design studio Kontrapunkt, Lima went on to study at Parsons School of Design[8] in New York City, where he received a MFA in Design and Technology in 2005. Lima recalls a lecture from his Parsons teacher Christopher Kirwan, back in 2004, as the moment that drove him towards information design.[9] His thesis "Blogviz: Mapping the dynamics of Information Diffusion in Blogspace" was subsequently published by Omniscriptum Publishing in 2009. During his MFA program Lima worked for Siemens Corporate Research Center, the American Museum of Moving Image and Parsons Institute for Information Mapping (PIIM).

It was during his time at PIIM, that Lima consolidated his research in information visualization and complex networks leading to the creation in October 2005 of,[10][11] an online archive for network visualization. Following his MFA, Lima worked as a designer and manager for advertising agency R/GA, mobile phone maker Nokia, Microsoft Bing and Codecademy. He currently works for Google as a Design Lead and Startup Mentor.[12]



In his first book Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information (2011), Lima covers the growing popularity of the network construct, not just as a scientific pursuit but as a cultural meme. In chapter six Complex Beauty, Lima introduces a new movement or "artistic trend" characterized by the depiction of metaphorical graph structures, which he labels "Networkism".[13][14] As Lima explains:

Networkism is stimulated by rhizomatic properties like nonlinearity, multiplicity, or interconnectedness, and scientific advances in areas such as genetics, neuroscience, physics, molecular biology, computer systems, and sociology. As a direct consequence of the recent outburst of network visualization, networkism is equally motivated by the unveiling of new knowledge domains as well as the visual representation of complex systems.[15]

Sharon Molloy, Emma McNally, Janice Caswell, Tomás Saraceno, and Chiharu Shiota are amongst the artists presented by Lima as precursors of this movement.

Proclivity for circlesEdit

In the Introduction of The Book of Circles: Visualizing Spheres of Knowledge (2017), Lima provides an evolutionary explanation for our propensity towards circular shapes.[16][17] His account comprises three hypotheses:

1. Humans prefer curvesEdit

Lima mentions that from an early age babies show an innate preference for curves, a human tendency corroborated by different studies, including a seminal paper published in 2006 by cognitive psychologists Moshe Bar and Maital Neta, which revealed a strong human preference for curved objects and typefaces,[18] as well as a 2013 study by researchers at the University of Toronto at Scarborough, which found a similar inclination in architectural spaces.[19]

2. Circles equal happinessEdit

In his second evolutionary explanation, Lima mentions the experiment conducted by psychologist John N. Bassili in 1978,[20] where the faces of participants were painted black and subsequently covered in dozens of luminescent dots. Participants were then asked to express different emotions in order to better understand the visual contour of each sentiment. As Lima describes:

while expressions of anger showed acute downward V shapes (angled eyebrows, cheeks, and chin), expressions of happiness were conveyed by expansive, outward curved patterns (arched cheeks, eyes, and mouth). In other words, happy faces resembled an expansive circle, while angry faces resembled a downward triangle.[21]

3. Spherical geometry of the eyeEdit

In his third point, Lima hypothesizes on how the circular framing and spherical geometry of our visual field, which cause a distortion similar to a "fish-eye lens" or a "crystal ball", could further "reinforce our innate tendency toward all things circular".[22] "Perhaps the brain prefers forms and contours that have a better fit within such a conditioned field of view." says Lima.


Lima was nominated by Creativity magazine as "one of the 50 most creative and influential minds of 2009"[23] and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) in 2010.[24] Lima was selected for the Innovative Entrepreneurship Award in the Portuguese Diaspora (Prémio Empreendedorismo Inovador na Diáspora Portuguesa) by the Portuguese President and was elected the curator for the Portuguese delegation at the London Design Biennale 2016.[25][26]


  • Lima, Manuel. The Book of Circles: Visualizing Spheres of Knowledge; Princeton Architectural Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-61689-528-0
  • Lima, Manuel. The Book of Trees: Visualizing Branches of Knowledge; Princeton Architectural Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-616-89218-0
  • Lima, Manuel. Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information; Princeton Architectural Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-568-98936-5
  • Lima, Manuel. Blogviz: Mapping the dynamics of Information Diffusion in Blogspace; Omniscriptum Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-3-639-20902-0


  1. ^ "The 21 Heroes of Data Visualization: Manuel Lima". BusinessWeek. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  2. ^ "When it comes to making data sexy, you can't be too graphic". CNN. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  3. ^ "Information Beautification". Creativity magazine. Archived from the original on 6 February 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  4. ^ "Why do we love to organise knowledge into trees?". New Scientist. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  5. ^ "The man who turns data into art". Wired. Archived from the original on 11 July 2012. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  6. ^ "Information Visualization: Cartography for the 21st Century". Forbes. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  7. ^ "Design Observer: Interview with Manuel Lima". Design Observer. Retrieved 27 October 2020.
  8. ^ "CV – Manuel Lima" (PDF).
  9. ^ "Manuel Lima on How Data Visualization Can Shape Architecture and Cities". ArchDaily. Retrieved 27 October 2020.
  10. ^ " 10 Years / 1,000 Projects". Medium. Retrieved 27 October 2020.
  11. ^ Lima, Manuel. Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information; Princeton Architectural Press, 2011.
  12. ^ "Manuel Lima | LinkedIn". Retrieved 2016-02-25.
  13. ^ Talasek, J. D. (2015). "Science and Culture: Data visualization nurtures an artistic movement". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 112 (8): 2295. doi:10.1073/pnas.1424990112. PMC 4345624. PMID 25713088.
  14. ^ "A visual history of human knowledge". TED. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  15. ^ Lima, Manuel. Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information; Princeton Architectural Press, 2011.
  16. ^ "Why Humans Are Obsessed With Circles, According To Science". FastCompany. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  17. ^ "Circular Visualizations". American Scientist. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  18. ^ Bar, Moshe; Neta, Maital (2006). "Humans Prefer Curved Visual Objects". Psychological Science. 17 (8): 645–648. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01759.x. PMID 16913943. S2CID 11705063. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  19. ^ "Impact of contour on aesthetic judgments and approach-avoidance decisions in architecture". PNAS. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  20. ^ "Facial motion in the perception of faces and of emotional expression". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  21. ^ "Why do we find circles so beautiful?". BBC Science Focus Magazine. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  22. ^ Lima, Manuel. The Book of Circles: Visualizing Spheres of Knowledge; Princeton Architectural Press, 2017.
  23. ^ "Manuel Lima". Creativity Magazine. 10 February 2009. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  24. ^ Lima, Manuel. "Manuel Lima". Retrieved 2015-09-27.
  25. ^ "London Design Biennale: Portugal". London Design Biennale. 7 May 2019. Retrieved 27 October 2020.
  26. ^ "UN/BIASED - Map 2". Google Arts & Culture. Retrieved 27 October 2020.

External linksEdit

  • Manuel Lima's Official Web Site.
  • Manuel Lima's List of Talks.
  • American Scientist Interview | First Person: Manuel Lima
  • Interview with Manuel Lima for Design Observer
  • Interview with Manuel Lima for MAS Context