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Thinking critically about “infographics,” “data visualizations,” and other visual junk

Jan 02, 2012
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Thinking critically about “infographics,” “data visualizations,” and other visual junk

A tale of two graphics:

Exhibit A: MetaCritic’s visual chart/scorecard of albums that appeared on Top 10 Lists in 2011. This is a fine, functional chart — it shows you a ranked, hyperlinked list of popular albums this year on Metacritic, showing 3 additional columns of data: # of times album was ranked #1, #of times album was ranked #2, and # of times album was ranked in another slot. In a very small space, this chart tells you a lot.

Exhibit B: David McCandless’s word cloud of the albums presented as “visualized.”1 Funny what counts for “visualized”: the album titles/artists float in a “cloud” of text without any hierarchy, except for size, and the text is colored based on country of the artist (an addition by McCandless—not sure of the significance) with a key below. It’s possible based on this chart to tell which album was #1 on the list (PJ Harvey) but which one was #2? #3? #10? In a small space, this cloud tells you very little.2

One resolution for all of us: let’s all think critically about what we see online labelled as an “infographic” or a “data visualization.” Is it really adding value to the original data? Is it something that could’ve been better presented as a list or a simple sentence? Is it just pretty or is it meaningful?

Remember: just because they call it an “infographic” doesn’t mean it’s good.

See also: Visual Complexity’s “Information Visualization Manifesto”

Filed under: infographics


  1. I pick on McCandless because he’s a popular “data visualization” guy with a best-selling book on the subject, The Visual Miscellaneum See also: Stephen Few’s takedown

  2. A marketer would argue that infographics like this are very effective “link bait.” 

42 notes

  1. ifitsoundsgood reblogged this from austinkleon
  2. galleryyuhself reblogged this from austinkleon
  3. ces-ley reblogged this from austinkleon
  4. detlog reblogged this from austinkleon
  5. getoffmyblog reblogged this from austinkleon and added:
    i’m a big fan of mccandless and informationisbeautiful.net but this is a perfect example of “ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
  6. alexenbits reblogged this from austinkleon and added:
    austinkleon hace interesantes observaciones sobre el verdadero objetivo de mostrar la información, ya sea en un vistoso...
  7. zzzt reblogged this from austinkleon
  8. notational reblogged this from austinkleon
  9. attackofthekillerderk reblogged this from austinkleon and added:
    Allow me to indulge my inner data visualization nerd here. This is a great little deconstruction of the way we see...
  10. stevenharding reblogged this from austinkleon
  11. austinkleon posted this
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