Edward Tufte’s first text, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, introduced standards for graphical representation. It is considered the definitive guide for visual display of complex data.
Visualizing Edward Tufte’s thought processes?
I found this while surfing Flickr. Austin Kleon of Austin, Texas is the artist. The image represents the cognitive process by which Edward Tufte transformed raw data into digestible information while writing Envisioning Information, one of his many follow-on publications to Visual Display. It is a mind map.
IEEE Spectrum’s Innovation blog featured the topic of data visualization, profiling Edward Tufte as a practitioner. The emphasis was unusual for IEEE. Use of words like “doyen” was too. I’m enjoying IEEE Spectrum more and more these days! If only I could become a member…
Tufte-isms explores how Tufte’s ideas have influenced language:
Tufte, it turns out, is not only a doyen of data visualization but also a neologist par excellence. His most famous [term] might be chartjunk, which refers to chart elements that not only serve no purpose but may in fact hinder understanding. In Tuftese, when chartjunk takes a cartoonish form…the result is a chartoon. One of the key principles in good information design is to shoot for a high data-ink ratio, which is the ratio of data-ink (the elements that convey the actual data) to the total ink used in the graphic. To calculate this, first distinguish the data-ink from the redundant data-ink (data elements repeated unnecessarily) and the non-data-ink (data support, such as grid lines, axes, labels, and legends, or as decoration, such as background colors, data markers, and of course, chartjunk). “Ink” here refers to both text and graphical elements.
SAS’s official conference reviewer attended a prior year’s SXSW event. She posted the focal image of the event’s opening presentation, the mind map reproduced below, as part of her review. I will include the relevant URL if I can ever find it again. Much of the SAS Ephemera blog has been archived so thoroughly that it has in effect, vanished. But the name did give fair warning.
A bullet point slide might be more meaningful for a keynote address than a mind map. But one page of Times Roman typeface on a white background is not nearly as compelling.
I did not have a high opinion of mind maps, but my mind is open
Mind maps first appeared several decades ago. Obviously, they are in vogue again. Mind maps could be described as visualization-lite. At best mind maps capture epistemological concepts. The viewer is prompted to synthesize information and learn. At worst, they are harmless, because they don’t attempt to quantify information.
The two mind maps above appeal to me as art, what I consider Chart Art. Chart Art is not meant in a pejorative way. Mind mappers don’t refer to their work as a form of “data visualization”. I think that is quite wise. We have designers who are interested in data, and analysts who are interested in design. Both can produce good work (we also have data scientists, but they are another matter entirely)!
This was Part 1, use of visualization. Part 2 will focus on abuse of data visualization. It will include a scaling criteria that I drafted, modified, pondered and put aside nearly two years ago, until I had some meaningful examples. Finally, I am ready!
Data scientists: Where are they?
Data scientists are a rare breed. The good ones have graduate-level degrees, or equivalent experience, in statistics and applied mathematics. Equally important is that they are decent programmers, and don’t consider applications development a tiresome chore.
All work by Austin Kleon is reproduced under Creative Commons License 2.0/by-nc-nd.
* The SAS Institute of Carey, North Carolina sells high quality statistical software and data management applications. SAS remains a privately held company, founded by Duke University professors from days past. If only IBM had acquired SAS instead of SPSS! I used SAS for many years. As I re-read this, I caught an amusing typo “high quality satirical software”. Who is the market leader in satirical software, I wonder?