Anatomy of a Cupcake | Allen Hemberger
Anatomy of a Cupcake | Allen Hemberger

What works

Not all information graphics arise from the same design process. In this case, the graphic creator went so far as to make a video of the creation process so, if you are so inclined, you can click through to Allen Hemberger’s “Things” blog to see how the Anatomy of a Cupcake went from sketch to photography and then to poster-sized graphic. If you love it maximally, you can even buy a print. [Note: If you like Hemberger’s work he has a food blog “The Alinea Project” and a photography blog.]

I chose this image for three reasons: first, I love that Hemberger took the time to make a video showing the process of going from idea to a tightly composed stylized photograph. Second, I am always happy to find people who construct information graphics differently. This one is a hybrid between photography and baking. What makes it work is the proper execution of both the baking and the photography as well as the care that was given to the original sketches that determined the storyboard for the idea. If the flow chart failed, he could have had the same cupcake components and the same photographic skills, but ended up with something that was merely ‘cute’ rather than something that is simultaneously aesthetically pleasing and clever.

The third reason I chose this image is even more personal than the first two. My summer research project, funded in part by Microsoft Research in Cambridge, MA, uses food blogs and food bloggers as a lens for focusing on the tensions between material and immaterial creative skills. I’m interested in figuring out how people move between the material world in which all of their senses can engage with a process and the not-quite-as-material world of the web in which the sensory world is reduced to the visual (though in some cases there is an audio component). The rest of the sensory experience of the material world has to be represented by text, photography, and graphic design. Why are there so many food blogs when food is something that has long been understood as a part of the material world that has to be tasted and smelled in order to be experienced properly? Why do people choose to blog about food and what keeps them going? Making and serving food are also ritualized practices for building connections between people – it is one of the primary physical elements through which culture is expressed. How does the collective experience of food work online?

The project has three components:

1. A web crawler is out poking around the English-speaking portion of the internet, creating a network of all of the food blogs that are linked in some way to an initial list of 50 top food blogs. So far, we have about 22,000 blogs in the English-speaking food blog network. Visualizations coming in another 6 weeks or so. The point of the web crawler is to see how many food blogs there are, how they connect to one another, and whether or not there are discernible lobes of the food blogosphere (say, for instance, a vegan lobe or a molecular gastronomy lobe). Because the food blog network is a grassroots sort of place – very few people are getting paid or prodded to start blogs and they are then free to link to whomever they want – there are some interesting social network questions we can answer about self-selecting networks. For instance, how many outlinks do food bloggers use? Is there geographical clustering or is the network oblivious to geography? Are bloggers who are more heavily linked to (or from) more likely to keep at it?

2. Once the crawler begins to reach a plateau in terms of adding new links, we will stop it, clean up the returns a bit, and then take a random sample of blogs who will receive an invitation to participate in a web-based survey. The survey does three things: it gathers blogger demographics (gender, race, age, kids or no kids, location, education, income), demographics of the blog (proportion dedicated to restaurant reviews vs. recipes, frequency of posts, perceived and measured audience, site traffic, comment traffic, presence on twitter and facebook, amount spent and earned), and the survey finishes with a few questions about motivations and perceptions of one’s blog.

3. To help construct a good survey instrument and to deepen the context within which the analysis of the survey results will take place, I am also interviewing 20-25 food bloggers. So far, the interviews have been fantastic. They are much better at getting at the nuances of practice – especially the crafting practices that are part of cooking/baking and blogging (photography, writing, graphic design, and online social networking…this last one may not be a craft practice).

All of this has been taking up a significant portion of my time and keeping me away from the blog. However, as the data comes in, I will have an opportunity to make graphics from scratch, rather than critiquing other people’s work all the time. I start to feel a bit like Oscar the Grouch when I’m in the midst of a string of critiques, especially since I know my own work is far from perfect.

If this blog uses the first person more than normal, it is because I have been reading so many food blogs where writing in first person is the norm. This just goes to show: if you want to be a good writer, be a good reader. The linguistic and grammatical styles we read eventually start to influence the way we speak and write.


Hemberger, Allen. “Anatomy of a Cupcake”.