Design and information visualization: two worlds apart

Yes, I know about the Malofiej awards and the Society for News Design. Yes, I know that there are many many designers out there that really care about the data and use their skills to communicate effectively, sometimes with awesome results.

Sacrificing data on the altar of Beauty

But for many many more, data is an annoying relative that can/should happily be sacrificed on the altar of Beauty (I am being gentle). The end result? Self-serving charts for the designer’s portfolio management. Beautiful (sometimes) but clueless, like the blonde in a joke.

When printed, those charts become role models, standards against which your charts are measured. That’s why Charley Kyd tries to convince us that his Excel reports have that “magazine-quality” that probably makes a difference.

When you forget about the data, the chart becomes the message.

[Update: Eager Eyes discusses the differences between “artistic” and “pragmatic” visualizations. Let’s say that too often the designer chooses the “artistic” where the context asks for the “pragmatic”.]

2 thoughts on “Design and information visualization: two worlds apart

  1. Can we see some examples of “those charts?”

    As an information designer who spends 40+ hours a week balancing financial data, branding and information design, I think we de a damn fine job of making sure the goals of “design”, ie legibility, simplicity, communication of a message, etc serve the purpose of the underlying data.

    Too often, designers like us are assumed to be extinct because the outliers (just great design, bad data presentation / ugly chart, good data) are so immediately visible. Know that in Boulder, Colorado there are 30+ web and graphic designers who put as much thought into the data presentation as we do into the design of the chart and the surrounding elements and layout.

    I’d love to see examples of the “naughty” charts you mention above. Otherwise, this post is entirely rhetorical.

  2. Kev

    A good source of bad chart are the corporate annual reports. Take a look at GE’s 2006 Annual Report, for example (I just saw one of the charts in http://supportanalytics.com/blog/2007/10/ ).

    There are several scientific papers that show how misleading charts in annual reports are (see for example the classic V. Beattie: “The Use and Abuse of Graphs in Annual Reports”). Frequently an eye-catching design is used to hide potential distortions.

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