What is wheat and what is chaff? Here is a list to help you take sides:

  • If you want to fit the data into the shape of real-world objects, that’s not data visualization;
  • If you use more than one dimension to represent a data point, that’s not data visualization;
  • If your project breaks basic perception laws, that’s not data visualization;
  • If there is a perceptually simpler way to represent the data, what you are doing is not data visualization;
  • If you use color when color is not needed, that’s not data visualization;
  • If you want to grab attention, that’s not data visualization;
  • If you reject a chart type because the audience may not be familiar with it, that’s not data visualization;
  • If your audience don’t know what the point of the chart is, that’s not data visualization;
  • Alphabetical sort is not data visualization;
  • If your chart is nothing more than a glorified table, that’s not data visualization;
  • No variation, no data visualization;
  • If a simple formula can be a better answer, there is not place for data visualization;
  • If all you can do with a chart is to compare data points, that’s not data visualization;
  • If you have three or fewer data points, that’s not data visualization;
  • If you have to scroll, that’s not data visualization;
  • If you have to compare slides, that’s not data visualization;

If your blood is boiling with so many enormities, cool down and don’t call me that. It may not be data visualization, but it may be important. It can be aesthetics, it can be literacy, it can be user interaction. They are important too.

Like Michelangelo said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” If we want to talk about “data visualization” we must find its essence, its form (in the platonic sense) to be able to compare them to the shadows of everyday life.

Actually, we don’t have to. We can always decide that the goals, the tools, the audiences and the processes are too dissimilar to accept a single concept of “data visualization”. Let’s decide this quickly so that we can return to our many other byzantine matters, like “should we use pie charts?”.

So, what does your angel look like? Are you including the feathers?