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Information is beautiful

October 3, 2012
The secret of a good story - Plotlines by Delayed Gratification

The secret of a good story – Plotlines by Delayed Gratification

There was a time when when the illustrative representation of data was confined to simplistic visual metaphors such as the bar graph and pie chart.

Though relatively simplistic, the power of these visual devices lay in their intrinsic clarity; and thus the inherent truth they conveyed and our ability to believe in it. Then came their corruption. By using visual tricks such as foreshortening, perspective and three dimensional manipulation, it was possible to subtly change the message, with a little emphasis here or a reduction there.

Today, information graphics or info-graphics as it’s more commonly known, is a burgeoning craft. Taken to its zenith, some would call it art form, as this year’s Information is Beautiful awards suggests.

Is it art? Is it truth? Is it useful? It was Mark Twain who popularised the phrase “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics” and that was long before they’d been any where a design process! Notwithstanding, many of these pieces represent a new way of ingesting¬† and perceiving data. By incorporating multiple principles of design, and not just plain ‘graphics’, into statistical data, it is possible to create something that transcends its original intent.

Naturally there will always be misrepresentation. One of the most universally applied and recognised pieces of info-graphics is Harry Beck’s underground map. Diagrammatic in the extreme, it’s not very useful for pedestrians. However, it’s core function is to assist with the interpretation of complex and often abstract data, quickly and succinctly. As long as you keep this overriding principle in mind, information can indeed be beautiful.

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