27 Aug 21

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

This book is a pleasure to read. Every time I got back to one of these older, classic design books, I'm reminded of how much we lose by paying so much attention to Medium, Twitter, newsletters and other contemporary sources. There's so much that has already been said, in much richer ways, by masters of the past.

Key takeaways:

Principles of graphical excellence

  • Good graphics convey interesting data, and teach or reveal something new to the reader.
  • Good graphics are often comparative, or multivariate, and not only illustrations of a simple sequence of numbers
  • If you have a small dataset of simple numbers, just show the numbers. Don't run the risk of adding a poor visual when numbers already convey so much by themselves.

Principles of graphical integrity

  • Always ask: compared to what? Always show some context (in time or with another dimension).
  • Dimensions in the chart should always be scaled exactly from the source. Don't apply dimensions (eg. 3D charts) to 2D data.
  • Money should often be shown in deflated, per-capita measurements, instead of absolutes which can lead to wrong interpretations.
  • Labels should be always in the chart itself, not hidden away or around it.
  • If the data is boring, you have the wrong numbers. Finding the right, interesting numbers require as much statistical skill as designing the chart. Don't use charts to "make dull data pop".
  • Don't underestimate the reader. According to the book, people are more trained to read charts than we think, and charts used in popular media are usually simpler than most people could take.

Principles in the theory of data graphics

  • Above all else show the data
  • Maximize the data-ink ratio
  • Erase non-data-ink
  • Erase redundant data-ink
  • Revise and edit

Remarkable quote:

Everyone spoke of an information overload, but what there was in fact was a non-information overload. — Richard Saul Wurman

The best graphics about the beautiful and important about Life and death, about universe. Beautiful graphics do not traffic with the trivial.

What is to be sought in designs for the display of information is the clear portrayal of complexity. Not the complication of the simple; rather the task of the designer is to give visual access to the subtle and the difficult—that is, the revelation of the complex.


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