For those short-attention readers between you, there is a book give-away at the end of this post.
The book Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design has already been announced a few weeks ago, in a post which also included an interview with one of its editors.
Being true to the number '2' in its title, the book shares many characteristics with its first edition, such as the relatively out-of-the-box chapter titles (think 'datacurves', 'datablocks', 'dataesthetic'), an open, photo-rich layout, and a (quite contrasting) thick serif font face for the main articles and interviews. The book also features some strange editorial decisions I personally cannot wrap my mind around. For instance, in the first book, I was convinced the cover page featured a series of holes. Little did I know those black dots were actually (scatterplot) balloons. In the current edition, it is a spectactular mountain range that should grab the attention of the casual book shop customer, of which the silhouette forms a trend line identical to historical stock market trends. While being truly spectacular renderings, it would not surprise me that potential buyers would consider this book more to deal about alpine hiking rather than the designerly notion of information visualization.
The book then starts off maybe on the wrong foot, as its foreword is courageous enough to quote Ben Sheiderman as claiming "The purpose of visualization is insight, not pictures". The article then finishes with the quote "Information visualization is too powerful and important to be left only to designers". While these are absolutely valuable viewpoints, this book in particular might not the best evidence of these claims, as it would be easy enough to open the book to a random page and blindly point to an example that proofs the contrary. Unfortunately, it might be this sort of reckless rhetoric, and in particular in combination with what the book actually stands for, that ultimately blurs the perceptions of readers and makes people like Manuel Lima cringe.
So no, many projects featured in this book are not examples of data visualizations that are both incredibly beautiful *and* deeply insightful. However, I would claim that despite those strong statements in the foreword section, it was never intended to do so. Instead, the range of creativity is immense, which is demonstrated by the range of presentation media: screen interfaces, sculptures, installations, clothing, cutlery, books, posters, tabletops, wallpapers, flags, projections, jewelry, ... You name it, anything that clearly demonstrates a superb design quality and is a representation of abstract data has been featured in this book (similar to this very blog?).
With its abundance of visually attractive and high-resolution depictions that literally jump of the page, the book is a joy to explore. Alternatively, you can have it just laying around for those moments of when your information addiction pushes you to once again get high on seductive ways of data expression. The physical format lends itself to casual browsing, while the short descriptions provide a glimpse into some of the insights offered. Additional content includes interviews with New York Times Graphics Editor Steve Duenes, Art+Com Director Joachim Sauter (think projects like this or this), Manuel Lima and myself. It is up to the reader to just be visually stimulated or to literally dive into the visualizations and figure out the knowledge buried inside. At first, readers should be able to experience how beauty has at least the power to increase the human curiousness in discovering the meaning behind data, and the principles that drive it. And then finally, after some time, one might actually discover those valuable insights that Shneiderman mentioned before.
In short, Data Flow 2 is more than 270 pages of data-goodness for those who wish this very blog also came in a paper format. It will be truly appreciated by those who realize that reaching the ideal for both beauty *and* function is not a particularly easy goal, and much more creative exploration is still required.
By courtesy of the book's publisher Gestalten, infosthetics is happy to announce it will give away 3 (three) books. Just add a comment below proposing an alternative title for a potential third book, which is more original than "Data Flow 3". Entries close on Friday 26th March.