I’ve got this idea for a future theme looking at “3 ages of data viz”. I want your thoughts. Is there something in this idea? Am I right? Are there more? What’s the NEXT age going to bring? What does this teach us about dataviz?
Age 1: The Excel disaster (pre 2000)
The early spreadsheet designers got excited about graphics and gave us 3-d exploded pie charts. If only they’d read some theory about effective dataviz maybe we’d not have had 35+ years of fighting back against dataviz disasters. To be fair to Excel, as you can see above, the defaults weren’t really that bad, given the limits of graphics cards in the day. Unfortunately, people got too excited about the 3d options.
Age 2: the Stephen Few fightback (2000-2010)
Stephen Few took on the spreadsheet behemoths in the first decade of this century. He made us all see sense and put science-backed best practice on the pedestal. People saw the light and visual tools began to ditch the dross in favour of charts that actually work.
Age 3: the creative years (2010-present)
The problem with Stephen Few’s approach is that people found his approach, well, boring. Unarguably his approach was functionally correct and just right for operational business dashboards. But many people were left unmoved. They found that following his approach didn’t engage people. As data journalism flourished and infographics exploded, there was a realization that a balance needed to be struck.
At the extreme end we found that people like David McCandless found success with their design-trumps-function approach but others, such as Alberto Cairo (see his Tapestry Conference slides) and Andy Kirk (8 hats) pushed the need to ENGAGE as well as INFORM.
Tell me your thoughts
My ideas are fluid around this. I’m trying to make the point that we’re in a great place with the combining fields of creative power and effective design. What else do I need to know?