I love this commercial:
A few days ago, I posted some critical comments about the data visualization techniques used in an iPad app. The designer responded (the links can be found in the post) and it highlighted some larger design issues.
There is no longer a dichotomy of stats-people and civilians. Everyone is surrounded by data and everyone is increasingly using data and, with it, data visualization. The commercial above highlights this amusingly, Steven Johnson writes about it in Everything Bad is Good for You, and newspapers and TV news outlets are building teams to define that new literacy.
All info-graphics and data visualizations have the same standards: to bring meaning to the data or turn that data into a story. While the goal of the content may change and the technical proficiency of the audiences may vary, those two standards apply universally. New info-graphic techniques should improve the meaning or the story-telling ability of earlier techniques. When we replace an efficient, clear, easy-to-scan table with a map containing blobs, there needs to be an improvement in either or both of those criteria.
Tufte is not a statistician’s statistician, he’s more the Orwell of the data-literate age. Having referenced Tufte in my earlier post, I got hit with a lot of comments about ivory tower, academic approaches, and statistical wonkiness. The truth is, Tufte studies a whole range of data visualizations from restaurant menus to ballots to subway maps to train time tables to sun spot charts. Throughout his writing, he rails, like Orwell, against data treatment that obscures meaning, muddles thought, or deliberately distorts. For Tufte, and you see this most clearly in his analysis of the Space Shuttle disaster, there’s an ethical responsibility to be clear and accessible to as broad an audience as possible.
Anyway, I just love that commercial. It shows as clearly as anything that people love richness, complexity, and depth in their content.