Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Financial Times launches The Chart Doctor, a column about visualization and infographics

The Financial Times, known for its elegant charts and infographics, has just launched a new section called “The Chart Doctor”. Its first article discusses the widespread and wrongheaded idea that any visualization should be understood in just five seconds —if possible, yes, sure; but it's rarely possible.

A few days ago I wrote against that idea: Simplicity is a virtue in visualization, but complexity isn't a vice when a complex graphic is necessary to tell a complex story with adequate depth. As the old saying goes, everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

As I wrote in The Truthful Art, quoting Nigel Holmes, the goal of information graphics shouldn't be simplification, but clarification, which is similar to what John Maeda's classic book calls simplicity. Clarification often involves increasing the amount of information shown, not reducing it mindlessly. And when an unusual graphic form may be much more enlightening than a traditional one, we ought to give it a try, not just take refugee in the self-defeating and lazy “our reader won't understand this.”

h/t Alan Smith


  1. Sometimes a colleague asks me what a chart means and I ask them, "have you read the labels?" to which they normally admit they haven't. If they still don't understand after reading the labels, then the graphic probably needs more editing, otherwise I remind them that most infographics are made up of lines, shapes, dots, spaces, colours and TEXT!

    1. You're right. The "TEXT" part is essential, but it is usually forgotten