Anyone who has traced their family history – mapping out its spreading branches upon the page – will appreciate how when seeking to organise patterns of information, there is nothing quite like the structure of a tree; it enables us to make sense of a complex web of connections; it branching can help us to reveal relationships and correlations that previously we had not seen. With a tree diagram, we can visually comprehend how diverse and seemingly separate units function as an interconnected whole. At one glance we see the bigger picture.
Manuel Lima has written a fascinating 800 year history of the tree diagram entitled The Book of Trees: Visualizing Branches of Knowledge. He writes:
Our primordial, symbolic relationship with the tree can elucidate why its branched schema has provided not only an important iconographic motif for art and religion, but also an important metaphor for knowledge-classification systems. Throughout human history the tree structure has been used to explain almost every facet of life: from consanguinity ties to cardinal virtues, systems of laws to domains of science, biological association to database systems. It has been such a successful model for graphically displaying relationships because it pragmatically expresses the materialization of multiplicity (represented by its succession of boughs, branches, twigs, and leaves) out of unity (its central foundational trunk, which in turn connected to a common root, source, or origin.)
To read more about ‘how the humble tree became our most powerful visual metaphor for organising information and distilling our understanding of the world’, click here.