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System of relationships, by Csönge Balla

Mapping a lifetime of acquaintances and friendships

September 9, 2013

[This is a guest post by Csönge Balla*, about her infographic project “System of my Relationships“]


In the spring semester of 2013, one of our projects at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts was to design an infographic poster of our relationships. As I have many acquaintances from various places and periods of my life, I wanted this to appear on my infographic, too. That’s why I decided to display much data and build a rather complex visual system of my relationships. Having set dimensions of the poster also helped: I was able to plan with tiny details, because we had to design a 70×100 poster.

The visual design and data-gathering processes developed together during the work. It was evident that based on the amount of information, I would need to create a clear, minimalist design. The idea of a circular pattern came first, and led to displaying time as a clock. Based on this concept the solution was given: people would be represented by arcs and arranged in a kind of proximity order. Different colors representing different group of friends also seemed logical.

Determining and collecting my most significant relations was the most interesting and challenging part of the work. I had to recall people from my childhood, friends who were important 15-20 years ago even if we hadn’t met for many years. Putting them in proximity order was even more difficult: deciding which friend or family member is closest to you is a thankless task. I also noted the frequency of the connection, how we knew each other, as well as dates of births and deaths that happened to my acquaintances during my life.

In the beginning I gathered 300 acquaintances, but after setting up the 300 circles it became apparent that there was not enough space for so many people. Therefore I cut out the last 50 and continued the work with 250.

The next step was to configure the start and end points of the 250 arcs. This was time consuming as I did this manually. After the arc system was ready I started to pick out colors and tried to find a way to illustrate the three types of meeting frequencies. The first idea I considered was to use different line weights, but since the arcs are very close to each other, this didn’t work out well. So I had to find an alternative solution: I used different line-styles (solid, densely dotted and sparsely dotted).

I also made the decision to reduce the variety of displayed connection types between my friends. At first I wanted to display strong friendships and other family connections in addition to romantic and parent-child relations. However, in many cases thisproduced many overlapping connection lines so I had to reduce the number of these lines.

Finally ten data types were displayed on the infographic:

  • closeness
  • beginning of the connection
  • end of the connection (if ended)
  • how we know each other
  • connection frequency
  • births
  • deaths
  • beginning of romantic relationships
  • end of romantic relationships (if ended)
  • parent-child relationships

Designing this infographic was both fun and instructive. After setting up the visual system I experienced some phenomenon about my relationships, which I had not been aware of before.

(System of my major relationships between 1988 and 2012 – The poster| Csönge Balla)

This infographic shows my major relationships with 250 of my acquaintances, friends and relatives from 1988 (the year of my birth) until the end of 2012. It also shows the major relationships between them in the given period.

The years, shown as sectors, move in a clockwise direction. Each person is represented by an arc that begins in the year when we first met, and, if we lost touch later the arc ends in the year when the relationship was interrupted. (Arcs ending in 2012 only represent the end of the year in the infographic database, and not the end of a contact.) I stand in the center of the circle, so the depth and the closeness of my individual connections are indicated by the distance between the arcs and the center point. Thus the 250 acquaintances are arranged in a kind of proximity order.

The frequency of the connection is shown by three different line types, and the 15 colors indicate the way in which we know each other. The romantic and parent-child relationships between my acquaintances are also visible on the infographic, in addition to the dates of births and deaths.


(Legend | Csönge Balla)
(Detail of the poster | Csönge Balla)
(Detail of the poster | Csönge Balla)
(Detail of the poster | Csönge Balla)
(Detail of the poster | Csönge Balla)
(Detail of the poster | Csönge Balla)
(Detail of the poster | Csönge Balla)
(Detail of the poster | Csönge Balla)
(Detail of the poster | Csönge Balla)
(Detail of the poster | Csönge Balla)
(Me with the poster | Csönge Balla)


*After finishing MA in sociology at the EötvösLoránd Science University in Budapest, Hungary, Csönge Balla has gone on to study graphic design at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. She will start her second year this September. During her studies, she is working as a freelance graphic designer and photographer. She likes to promote social issues using graphic design, and hopes she can combine it with her sociology background in her future work. You can find her on Behance.

Written by Tiago Veloso

Tiago Veloso is the founder and editor of Visualoop and Visualoop Brasil . He is Portuguese, currently based in Bonito, Brazil.