Chart art

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.

UPDATE 4 September 2014

Mind map about Tufte data visualization

Visualization of Edward Tufte visualizing 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. “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.

SAS* surprise

A SAS blogger attended the annual SXSW Interactive event, a year or three, maybe four ago.  He posted the focal image of the SXSW opening presentation, the mind map reproduced below, as part of his review. A bullet point slide might be more meaningful for SXSW to use for a keynote address, but one page of Times Roman typeface on a white background is not nearly as compelling. 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 Much of the SAS Ephemera blog has been archived so thoroughly that it has in effect, vanished. The blog name did give fair warning.

Dream Mindmap via Flickr

Sweet dreams at SXSW in Austin, Texas by Austin Kleon

I do 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!

Data scientists: Where are they?

A data scientist is rara avis. 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.

* 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?

Published in: on 4 February 2012 at 10:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Ellie! Thanks for your interest in SAS! The blog you referenced above ( has indeed morphed and is now broadly focused on data-driven marketing.

    Based on your word cloud, you might also be interested in our Data Roundtable blog: .

    Sadly, I don’t have any suggestions for “Tunisia.”


  2. […] Tufte spoke well. After a mild question and answer session, he retrieved copies of his book from us. I badly wanted to keep mine. For a little more Tuftese see my Chart Art post. […]

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