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Want to participate in a competition worth almost US$1000? Read on!

There has been a lot of discussion about the concept of information aesthetics lately, mostly focusing on the seemingly rapid rise of misplaced attention to "pretty, flashy mash-ups of something or other", in the press and on some (hmm hmm) online media. Despite these disagreements, I do hope we can all agree on some sort of visualization spectrum, with on one side the functional, expert-geared field of "information visualization", and on the other, that of the intriguing, visually persuasive "data art". I personally do believe we should not focus on defining such a hard divide, as there already exists an overlapping subfield in between where all the exciting things currently happen. Potentially, and maybe egoistically, I would propose this subfield could be labeled with the name of this blog. However, for the purpose of this competition, this issue is not even of much relevance.

While we keep discussing the necessity of theoretical frameworks, start dozens of vizblogs with endless "best-of" lists, and criticize the best practice of data visualizations, we seem to have lost the attention to a parallel universe, which no-one really recognizes the need to write a manifesto for. A field that is potentially more prevalent than all visualization "tools" and "artwork" put together. I mean those data visualizations that are neither "eye candy" nor "useful", neither "beautiful" nor "functional", neither "art" nor a "tool", neither "user-satisfactory" nor "effective", and neither stimulating the "heart" nor the "brain". The challenge of this competition is thus for you to find the most "ugly", "useless" and "disfunctional" data visualization online. It sounds easy, but can be more difficult than you might think.

Courtesy of our long-term sponsor FusionCharts, the 2 winners will each receive a FusionCharts Developer Bundle, worth US$499. Fusioncharts specializes in interactive Flash charts, gauges and maps, and is used by companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Dell, HP, GE, and many more. The Developer bundle comprises one license each of FusionCharts (animated Flash charts for web apps), FusionWidgets (data visualization widgets for dashboards), PowerCharts (interactive charts for specialized domains) and FusionMaps (interactive online maps).

You can participate by sending an email to ugly at infosthetics.com. The email should include a 600x600px .jpg image of the respective visualization, a direct link to the webpage containing the visualization, a title and short description (100-word max), and your name and email address (which will not be posted). Entries should be received before Wednesday 2 December, 12am (CET). The jury consists of FusionCharts staff and infosthetics. Any questions can be asked below.

Please note submissions proposing the complete collection of past infosthetics posts are permitted, but not really encouraged. :)

Images above were sourced from Many Eyes and Worst Visualization Gallery. Sorry, could not help picking 2 beautiful ones, negating my own rules... Further inspiration includes The Best and Worst of Statistical Graphics and The Pentagon Information Graphics Machine.

19 COMMENTS

Does anyone else see the irony of fusioncharts sponsoring this competition?

Wed 25 Nov 2009 at 1:54 AM

This contest is over before it started - just go to http://graphjam.com/ and you're done.

Wed 25 Nov 2009 at 2:59 AM

So which is the criterion, ugly or useless? An ugly chart can still be useful (just look at all those boring Excel defaults bar and line charts), and a pretty chart is not guaranteed to be useful by any means.

I think this is a great idea. Are you going to publish all entries, or just the winners?

Wed 25 Nov 2009 at 4:14 AM

The Republican chart on health care reform is intentionally ugly, intentionally confusing and useless and politically motivated to obfuscate the health care reform debate. It's also quite popular-- does popularity factor into this contest?

link [gopleader.gov].

Wed 25 Nov 2009 at 5:32 AM

Even the pie chart legend has a 3D effect: link [mcga.gov.uk].

Bonus points: found using the new Google image swirl - categorizes all 3D pie charts into one swirl: link [image-swirl.googlelabs.com].

Wed 25 Nov 2009 at 8:02 AM

I hope to never stumble upon GraphJam again. It is poor. makc is right, competition is over!

Wed 25 Nov 2009 at 10:58 AM

@Hadley: I would not confuse a tool with the skills of the people that use it. Or are all Powerpoint presentations bad because because of Powerpoint alone?


@makc and @Jonathan: GraphJam seems pretty consistent to me, it does exactly what it needs to do.


@Robert: The criterion is that the visualization must be both: ugly AND useless. We have plenty of other graphs doing one or the other already.


@Robert: It depends on the amount and quality of submissions whether we will post *all* the entries. But normally I will post more than just the winners.


@Stefan: Overall popularity or other features like interactivity can make submissions all the more interesting and could increase the chance of winning. Although the chart on health reform was specifically designed to be confusing (...in a sort of generally accepted visual style aesthetics), and can thus be called quite effective.


@Alex: Good find! Would be nice to see the context, e.g. the webpage it originates from.

Wed 25 Nov 2009 at 1:48 PM

i love haters

Wed 25 Nov 2009 at 2:40 PM
cwed

@infosthetics: but the case studies on their website are horrible. Gratuitous 3d, gratuitous shading - it's all just eye candy, with no evidence of real thought into data analytic capabilities.

Wed 25 Nov 2009 at 3:43 PM

@Hadley: I am not particularly their advocate (at least I am not paid like one :)...), but exactly the same can be said of Powerpoint, and how Microsoft chooses to actually promote it. It might be a question of clumsy marketing or the actual expectations of their potential customers?


At least one can see opposite examples at addthis.com or usaspending.gov, for instance.


However, I do appreciate the discussion of how the commercial data visualization market place fits into the beauty versus functionality realm. Seems to be an interesting topic for further consideration.

Wed 25 Nov 2009 at 4:26 PM

@Hadley, it's mostly about who they're marketing too, I think, and what it's used for. R doesn't exactly look all that great to an outsider looking in either.

Thu 26 Nov 2009 at 8:51 AM

a very nice collection of every type of "ugly" charts you can find at http://www.hichert.com/de/consulting/dashboards/52

on the left side below "schreckenskeller" (horros basement)

Fri 27 Nov 2009 at 5:10 AM

@makc and @Jonathon: GraphJam is funny. Not the prettiest, but I get it; both the humor and the ideas.

@Hadley: I hope you win so you can show a good case study of this software.

@infosthetics: I just ran across your site and wonder if you have a most beautiful and useful contest?

Mon 30 Nov 2009 at 4:21 PM
Brenda

@Brenda: That competition is happening here each single day :)...

Mon 30 Nov 2009 at 9:22 PM

Alex -

Many of the 3D legend key cuboids don't match the colors of the pie wedges. Looks like they built their 3D legend elements by hand. That's called going the extra mile.

Tue 01 Dec 2009 at 7:40 AM

here's a good one, combining the results of individual politicians' approval polls into a pie chart as though the numbers had come from a horse race poll:
http://wonkette.com/412361/all-193-of-republicans-support-palin-romney-and-huckabee

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 9:58 AM
Joel

I would cast my vote to the suggestion by Stefan Lasiewski. An excellent example of clarity, readybility and meaning.

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 11:02 AM

@Benjamin: Is that irony? If not, I do hope Stefan submitted the example then!

Wed 02 Dec 2009 at 8:13 PM

Many of the 3D legend key cuboids don't match the colors of the pie wedges. Looks like they built their 3D legend elements by hand. That's called going the extra mile

Tue 23 Mar 2010 at 4:03 AM
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