Tufte and Infographics

I recently read Tufte’s Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Althought it predates the predominance of digital infographics, the text applies to any two dimensional medium.

One of the main ideas is that good information design strives to reveal the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time, with the least ink, in the smallest space.

It’s interesting to contrast this with the trend of infographics, which seek to firstly entertain through visual experiences. Tufte would call this “chartjunk,” as its design does nothing to contribute to a user’s real comprehension of the underlying data.

I would argue for somewhere in between, that infographics serves a job to be done. It allows those seeking a ready-made conclusion enough facts to support a stance. In other words, it serves as a high schooler’s persuasive essay, emphasizing and summarizing data to aid a predetermined conclusion. In reality, infographics are often presented as supplements to an editorial in another medium, like on cable or in an article, and serve much the same purpose. A Tufte disciple would find the practice of willful filtering of information reprehensible, and would instead seek to create a graphical representation of the entirety of the data present, with a thought that the display would compel the viewer to her own conclusions. On the whole, I tend to side with information oversharing, as “simplifying” based on presumptions of limited time or critical reasoning skills can often lead to wild misconceptions.