A few weeks ago I hopped on the Go Train and headed to Sheridan College to attend a lecture by Isabel Meirelles. The title and focus of the lecture was on why we need visualizations, a subject I regularly touch on in my workshops.
The lecture was packed with at least 100 students and faculty who came from a variety of backgrounds (design, technology, business). This underlines that information visualization touches a variety of fields and that’s really exciting.
I recently picked up Isabel’s recent (amazing) book which she touched on throughout the lecture. My two favorite infoviz books are now Alberto Cairo’s ‘The Functional Art’ and this one. I’m going to be using both as my guide for my upcoming course at George Brown (more details to come).
The So What?
Isabel showed a few visualizations that were stunning but didn’t really have an insight or didn’t answer the ‘So What’ question. As an analyst this very question is what drives my work and when I consult on visualization projects the same applies. Yet projects continue to be developed that yield little insight but look amazing or are technically very complex. I have an art background and everything I studied and researched had a purpose and insight. Even the Minimalists with their blank canvases and plastic cubes had a purpose in mind even if you had to read through several essays to understand said purpose. A series of metal boxes may leave you wondering but with a bit of research it’s clear what Donald Judd was after.
I’m not sure these modern data visualization artists can say the same. There’s a sea of data at our finger tips but without a clear objective it becomes visual clutter. The signal to noise ratio is slightly off-balance and hopefully will even out. One can hope.
As Mr. Cairo says, visualization is a tool and I will stand by that until the cows come home.