Monday, March 23, 2015

More about data decoration

In the past months there has been some controversy around certain words I wrote about visualization/infographics and data decoration. Boundaries are always very fuzzy but just a reminder I still believe that there's a fundamental difference between graphics designed to enable understanding (visualization/infographics) and those that are intended mainly to embellish numbers or enliven a page (data decoration.)

I've just found a good example to illustrate my point. Ask yourself if this graphic lets you do anything with the data comparing values, seeing relationships between them, etc., or if figures have been arranged to create nice-looking picture, instead:

(UPDATE: Stefanie Posavec and Moritz Stefaner have suggested the term “data illustration” rather than “decoration”, as it sounds less demeaning. I disagree. I love Baroque architecture, so I think that decorative art can be valuable, and can be done well or badly —perhaps the case here. But I am fine with “data illustration”, too.)


  1. I think the problem is that you use the term "decoration" to describe a certain kind of practice that most people (myself included) would agree is facile and flawed.

    But by invoking the word decoration you also invoke a century of critical discourse that involves the entire range of creative disciplines, most of it very negative towards the notion of art and design as merely "decorative arts". And just as scientists tend to object to contemporary art cherry-picking concepts from quantum mechanics, people in the creative field will tend to object to the idea that "decoration" can be used as a concept independently of the historical background of the term.

    In other words: No matter what your personal relationship to Baroque architecture is, you can not say anything meaningful about it without acknowledging the socio-political cultural background that produced that architecture. (Personally, I have a weak spot for Brutalism, even though the ideas behind it have been widely - and accurately - denounced.)