Charting and Design


Another much-linked chart, this one deemed beautiful enough to grace the cover of a book. An appealing image, certainly. I’m not sure how it relates to flowers, but ok.

Now let’s try using the actual chart. Find what the cultural significance of red is in the Muslim culture. No? Ok, it doesn’t work that way - let’s instead find what color symbolizes peace in Eastern European cultures. Find it yet? Need a compass, perhaps, to trace from the in-chart legend to the desired slice?

Please stop the madness. The purpose of a chart is to illuminate; if it’s harder to read than a raw-data table or a paragraph of text saying the same, then don’t use a chart. And if your goal is simply to create a pretty graphic, then don’t try beefing up your science cred with this “information” stuff.

Arranging data in an aesthetically pleasing way with no regard for how the arrangement affects the viewer’s understanding is simply dishonest. It’s only popular because no one really cares to use these charts for any real purpose. (Color significance in cultures - I mean, does it get any fluffier?) Imagine someone with no database experience “visualizing” a SQL query in this way and trying to sell a database administrator on it.

Information can be beautiful. Information can also be ugly. It can be helpful or misleading, educational or confusing. Information doesn’t care; the designer has to.

The chart is question is definitely good looking. I’ve made good looking figures (not with as much art to them).

The point I get out of this: the chart isn’t designed.

It’s simply made to look good.

But can this chart be designed? The post on Neven Mrgan’s Tumblr argues that the data doesn’t work in a chart.

Too often school assignments I’ve had require figures/charts, and looking back, these really often were unnecessary, redundant, etc. Almost all of them fell under the “harder to read than a raw-data table or a paragraph of text saying the same”. The issue was that there was no freedom in the assignment to make design choices. And there certainly wasn’t design thought going into the construction of most of the assignments, either.