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[last post from Fernanda Viégas at Infovis'07, (thank you Fernanda!)]

Stephen Few’s capstone entitled “Infovis as Seen by the World Out There: 2007 in Review” managed to paint a vivid picture of how outsiders see infovis. The balance isn’t very positive, being peppered with misconceptions. Steve guided us through a scary litany of examples, starting with information-starved, 3Dish business dashboards. He also revieed the four main sources of exposure people have to infovis these days: blogs, the media, books, and the “visualiti” (visualization celebrities.) Even though the current state of affairs is far from ideal, he finds that the future is more promising.

He revealed that blogs’ coverage of infovis is a mixed blessing. While popular blog sites such as Smashing Magazine have attempted to introduce their readers to the state of the art in data visualization, such articles often highlight poor examples of visualization (think shiny, 3Dish business charts again). A particularly bad example is the “periodic table of visualization methods” which, as he pointed out, utilizes a metaphor (the periodic table of the elements) that carries absolutely no relation to the content of the information it displays.

Steve wasn’t too keen on a lot of the media and publishing attention infovis has been getting lately. Of note was his disenchantment with Edward Tufte’s latest book “Beautiful Evidence.”

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[links: perceptualedge.com & (Stephen's book "Information Dashboard Design") & b-eye-network.com]

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On a more positive note, he mentioned the importance of what he calls the “visualiti,” that is, celebrities who help shape the public perception of infovis. Here he hailed the influence of Tufte, Al Gore (on the movie An Inconvenient Truth), and Hans Rosling’s video at the TED conference. “When Al Gore got up on that crane to show the amount of CO2 by the year 2050, he became an infovis icon!”

Steve also showed excitement about a new flavor of infovis venue: massive, public visualization sites such as Swivel and Many Eyes.

As infovis goes mainstream, public perception becomes a key factor for visualization adoption and growth. Steve showed that we have a long way to go. Thanks for the sanity check!

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4 COMMENTS

Great stuff! I'm currently reading Information Dashboard Design - it's an excellent resource.

I've commented on the period table rehashing issue: http://benbodien.com/post/15683691

There are at least two other examples of people revisiting the 'periodic' table layout for mapping other categories of information.

Tue 06 Nov 2007 at 8:00 AM

You really need to see a scathing review of Stephen Few's book, Information Dashboard Design @ www.fyivisual.com.

You can read the pdf file titled: Information Dashboard Design, The Emperor Has No Clothes.

Mon 10 Nov 2008 at 2:16 AM

@Kim
I've gotta say that I tried to read that "scathing" review, but it was such a chore. When I got to the part where he said "SO WHAT!" to color-blind people, I lost all interest.

Then he pounded it home further by saying "those 6 or 7% of the workforce can simply do tasks that don’t require them to use the display if they are unable to do it. Do we all get to be professional quarterbacks?"

I don't know about being a professional quarterback, but I'd certainly consider myself a design professional. Awards aren't the perfect measure of a good designer, but I'd like to think that the numerous international design annuals and books who have heralded my work as "flawless executions that make it look easy" are pretty good indicators that I'm good at what I do.

I'm also colorblind.

To have another "designer" so deftly turn up his nose to me (and others like me) and belittle my skill is offputting to say the least, completely unprofessional to take it further, and downright juvenile to end it.

Thu 14 May 2009 at 2:07 AM
ColorChallenged

Amazingly Mr. (MR) Few tried to create his own Wiki page calling himself an expert in data visualizaiton. I think he needs to seek some psychological help.

Who are the "real" data visualization experts? Mr. Few? I don't think so. He only has an MS in religious studies and zero track record in any successful commercial product. He is an expert?

He has published exactly 3 books by his own account, 2 of which were self-published by Analytics Press (a company of exactly 1 -see D&B report), and the one by O'Reilly was non-reviewed and the publisher refuses to comment on copyright reprint permissions making Few Mr ? about ethics.

Point to me his research if you please.

Whose reputation does Mr. Few (MS in religion) ride on? Ware, Ben Shneiderman, Tufe? What research has Few done? I read his blog challenging him by Dr. Kahn and it was clear that conversation that Mr. Few (MR Few, MS in religion) had no clue even about the challenge questions posed to him, so Mr Few cut him off from Few's blog conversation. This kind of "shove it down your throat or I will blog you negatively" has to stop if we are to ask and answer important questions about information display. FWIW.

Mon 03 Aug 2009 at 9:13 AM
R U Kidding
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