An information visualization manifesto

infovisInteraction designer Manuel Lima of VisualComplexity (a website that collects visualizations of complex networks) has published an information visualization manifesto, which has generated an interesting discussion.

He writes:

When Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viégas wrote about Vernacular Visualization, in their excellent article on the July-August 2008 edition of interactions magazine, they observed how the last couple of years have witnessed the tipping point of a field that used to be locked away in its academic vault, far from the public eye. The recent outburst of interest for Information Visualization caused a huge number of people to join in, particularly from the design and art community, which in turn lead to many new projects and a sprout of fresh innovation. But with more agents in a system you also have a stronger propensity for things to go wrong.

… after one of my lectures in August 2009, the idea of writing a manifesto came up and I quickly decided to write down a list of considerations or requirements, that rapidly took the shape of an Information Visualization Manifesto. Some will consider this insightful and try to follow these principles in their work. Others will still want to pursue their own flamboyant experiments and not abide to any of this. But in case the last option is chosen, the resulting outcome should start being categorized in a different way. And there are many designations that can easily encompass those projects, such as New Media Art, Computer Art, Algorithmic Art, or my favorite and recommended term: Information Art.

Even though a clear divide is necessary, it doesn’t mean that Information Visualization and Information Art cannot coexist. I would even argue they should, since they can learn a lot from each other and cross-pollinate ideas, methods and techniques. In most cases the same dataset can originate two parallel projects, respectively in Information Visualization and Information Art. However, it’s important to bear in mind that the context, audience and goals of each resulting project are intrinsically distinct.

He proposes 10 directions for any information visualization project (the original article explains the points and includes responses, and follow-up article reflects and elaborates):

  • Form Follows Function
  • Start with a Question
  • Interactivity is Key
  • Cite your Source
  • The power of Narrative
  • Do not glorify Aesthetics
  • Look for Relevancy
  • Embrace Time
  • Aspire for Knowledge
  • Avoid gratuitous visualizations

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