Eleanor Lutz on the Infographic Wizardry of Tabletop Whale

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For December’s infographic, Eleanor Lutz of Tabletop Whale animated the nuts and bolts of building a human. And no, not those nuts and bolts.

Based in Seattle, Tabletop Whale publishes a new science-related chart, illustration, or infographic every two to three weeks. The embryogenesis graphic is made up of about 400 sketches. It maps the human embryo and fetus development all the way from fertilization until birth and still manages to be easily viewable in one window on your computer screen. Other topics covered recently include the wingbeat paths of five different flying creatures, the parts required to put together your own computer, and an animated chart of 42 North American butterflies. Tabletop Whale approaches communicating technical information in a refreshing and exciting way, digesting the stodgy science textbook into a visual that is still detailed and informative.

We were curious to find out more about Tabletop Whale, so we chatted with its creator and infographic mastermind Eleanor Lutz.

Paste: If you ran into someone in an elevator and wanted to give them the pitch of a lifetime, how would you describe Tabletop Whale?

Eleanor Lutz: I would probably just describe it as my science infographic blog. Tabletop Whale is a personal blog where I put up whatever I feel like working on, so it’s not really a huge company idea or anything like that!

Paste: What’s the story behind the name “Tabletop Whale?” That one sticks with ya.

EL: Well, XBox live has a function where they suggest random screen names for you when you first get your account. It suggested “Tabletop Whale” to my boyfriend when he first got his Xbox, and I thought the name was awesome so I asked him if I could use it.

Paste: Tell us a little about your background. Were there folks along the way that led you to the work you do now?

EL: I always loved drawing growing up, and biology was my favorite subject all through middle and high school. All of the awesome science teachers I had as a kid were probably the reason why I ended up getting a degree in biology.

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Detail from Flight Videos Deconstructed

Paste: Having studied molecular biology at the University of Washington, how has your coursework influenced your work in design?

EL: I love making infographics, and my degree definitely helps a lot with that. In my classes I learned how to research proper scientific sources and understand difficult scientific papers, both of which are helpful in making a good infographic.

Paste: Where has been your favorite city or place to work?

EL: I really liked working with Mapbox in Washington DC. It’s a beautiful city and the company was full of awesome smart people. But I also really liked San Francisco when I visited there this year, and of course I love Seattle, where I work now.

Paste: What has been one or two of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on recently?

EL: I think my favorite projects are always the two most recent ones that I’ve done. So right now I would say my embryo infographic and my tattoo [computer assembly] infographic, but that will probably change by next month.

Paste: Going off of your two favorite infographics, I’d just like to pause and appreciate that you put together your own computer. That’s pretty incredible! What was the research like for that project?

EL: It’s much cheaper to build your own PC, so I was able to get a much better computer than I would have for the same price if I’d paid for a Mac. The research for the project wasn’t too long, since it’s actually not that complicated to build a computer. There’s tons of guides on the internet that explain everything step by step.

Paste: What does your creative process look like? Do you find a quiet place at home to work?

EL: I work from home every day, so I’ve gotten used to the schedule by now. The trick for me is to keep regular hours, so I always try to work from 8 to 5. I take ‘vacation’ days like most people, but I try to limit those to once or twice a month when I need to run errands or I have a cold. I have a tutorial online actually, so if you want to know more about the process you can check it out there!

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Detail from How to Build a Human

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