After seeing a poor infographic re-posted, I briefly ranted on twitter:
Terrible presentation of data. The bars are OK, the rest is worthless. http://bit.ly/o76BOm @litmusapp #fb #li
I don’t mean to be harsh, but #infovis culture needs constructive critique to improve, not just reposting. /cc @visualizingOrg @litmusapp
To put my mouse where my mouth (well, keyboard) is, I present two quick & dirty re-drawings, with commentary, of the first two sections of the poor infographic.
In both of these sections, an aesthetically pleasing, but not-very-functional, donut graph has been used. In both cases, it’s the wrong choice, though for different reasons.
Chapter One: On Beauty, by Noah Iliinsky
This chapter is an examination of what we mean by beauty in the context of visualization, why it’s a worthy goal to pursue, and how to get there. We’ll start with a discussion of the elements of beauty, look at some examples and counterexamples, and then focus on the critical steps to realize a beautiful visualization.
[I use the words visualization and visual interchangeably in this chapter, to refer to all types of structured representation of information. This encompasses graphs, charts, diagrams, maps, storyboards, and less formally structured illustrations.]
What is Beauty?
What do we mean when we say a visual is beautiful? Is it an aesthetic judgment, in the traditional sense of the word? It can be, but when we’re discussing visuals in this context, beauty can be considered to have four key elements, of which aesthetic judgment is only one. For a visual to qualify as beautiful, it must be aesthetically pleasing, yes, but it must also be novel, informative, and efficient.
For a visual to truly be beautiful, it must go beyond merely being a conduit for information and offer some novelty: a fresh look at the data or a format that gives readers a spark of excitement and results in a new level of understanding. Well-understood formats (e.g., scatterplots) may be accessible and effective, but for the most part they no longer have the ability to surprise or delight us. Most often, designs that delight us do so not because they were designed to be novel, but because they were designed to be effective; their novelty is a byproduct of effectively revealing some new insight about the world. keep reading…
I was recently asked some questions about the Beautiful Visualization (O’Reilly 2010) and my role as the technical editor and chapter contributor.
How did you end up working on Beautiful Visualization?
I was given the opportunity to work on the book because of my previous research and master’s thesis on methods of creating quality information visualizations.
Why is this book especially important now?
This is a particularly exciting time to be working with information visualization.
Visualization has become popular over the last few years. There have been some very good visualizations making it into the media and pop culture recently, and they have reached millions of people. Of note, the 2008 elections and current World Cup tournament have inspired dozens of visualizations that have received a lot of attention. Good visualizations are fun, educational, and engaging. People enjoy them, and some publications such as the New York Times and GOOD magazine are becoming known for their (generally high quality) work with information visualizations.
Beautiful Visualization, published by O’Reilly Media, is their deal of the day today. Get the ebook version for just $9.99 with the discount code DDVSZ.
The print edition should be available by the end of June.
I’m very excited to announce that I’m technical editor for, and contributing a chapter to, the book Beautiful Visualization, due out in April from O’Reilly.
It is a collection of case studies and articles discussing how various beautiful information visualizations were achieved and how to create your own.
Stay tuned for updates as events warrant.