Interesting, Easy, Beautiful, True?

Monday, November 9th, 2009

I’ve been doing a few interviews to promote my book, The Visual Miscellaneum, and a question keeps coming up. What makes good information design?

This is the point where I go a bit glassy. To be honest, I don’t know. I am unschooled in both information (I was a college dropout) and design (I am a self-taught designer). I’ve never really thought about it.

So, I made a nice cup of tea and had a think and came up with this.

What Makes Good Information Design v 1.0

To me, these seem like the key components of a good infographic / data visualisation / piece of information design.

  • Information needs to be interesting (meaningful & relevant) and have integrity (accuracy, consistency).
  • Design needs to have form (beauty & structure) and function (it has to work and be easy to use).

You may disagree. I welcome your input. I may not have got it right.

Something surprised me about doing this though.

In information design, it seems, if you have just two elements, you get something tolerable and cool. i.e.

  • integrity + form = eye candy
  • interestingness + function = experiment

(I’m not entirely sure about these combos)

But if you combine three elements without the fourth, things suddenly FAIL:

  • interesting subject, solid information, looks great, but is hard to use = useless.
  • amazing data, well designed, very easy to read but isn’t that interesting = boring

What do you think? This is a work in progress. Can you help me shape this a bit? Have I missed anything?

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Show Comments ( )

  • pharmacy technician

    Nice post & nice blog. I love both.

  • JC in Va

    As our culture continues to shift and especially of the age of social media, wouldn’t “fun” be an increasingly important ingredient?

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    А как на блоге можно заработать? У меня есть блог о игре на гитаре. Правда там народа в день не много ходит…человек 20. Можно с него что то заработать?

  • Curtis Weir

    I love this, it’s a complete paradox.

    It’s an interpretation, on how to interpret information with people’s interpretations of the interpretation underneath.

    The clarity of the design and the ambiguousness of the labels lead to some interesting comments on how its been received. It’s a logical point of view. My favourite label being ‘Successful’. it tricks me see the graphic objectively and and subjectively in same thought.

    Further complexity in meaning comes from the circles/definitions which are widely regarded as dualities ‘form’ and ‘function’ as they placed adjacent and also overlap creating ‘or’ & ‘and’ rules which further interpreted.

    Does the shortfall of one component in a design is rendered insignificant? Is this due disappointment resulting in all promise and potential but the absence of one the key ‘great information design’ components (as illustrated)?

    I disagree with @adamnieman that “Raw data is pregnant with meaning.” meaning or narrative is not inherent in data. ‘Great’ Infographics provide a clear narrative to discourses, adding value even if you personally refute it’s conclusions.

    Personally, I think that these could be the two exceptions to David’s common sense. and

  • Steve

    instead of “rubbish” I would put “misleading” or “deceptive”.

  • Malena

    Well desinged idea on design

  • suresh manian

    I think it’s a very good framework, and can be applied in many useful ways. I would immediately make this into a far more subtler and sophisticated Feedback Tool, build cool controls for the dimensions, and bury the form-filling feedback industry. And that’s just for starters. Good job!

  • Shane Woods

    I think you pretty much got it.

  • Suze Orman

    Having used something similar in design I found this version very interesting. To quote, ” the point where I go a bit glassy” loved that line. Me too.

    The design leads to interesting thoughts on how its been seen. Lovee the ugly quadrent…so true.

  • Castorena

    I really like this stuff

  • Dental Hygienist

    David, you are obviously quite talented and have a keen eye for designs that “work”. No need to be a phd candidate for this. It’s something innate and a true gift.

    You have managed to portray what I have been seeking to understand. Thanks

  • MIchele Wong

    Thanks for putting this together. Students are always asking “what makes a good piece of information design?”

    The term interestingness seems open to interpretation to me. If you are referring to visual interest, then my issue is that the term interestingness overlaps with the term form. If by interestingness, you are referring to semiotics, concepts, ideas, maybe consider the term concept instead?

    It would be helpful to be more specific or distinctive with the terms “ugly” “rubbish” “useless” and “boring.” These terms can be easily interchangeable right now. Maybe if you had a list of definition to contextualize or exemplify the terms. Right now, the general sense being evoked by the terms is negative.

    Looking forward to what all comes next! Thanks for sparking this conversation.

  • Nshinka ‘nlupupa’ Lupupa

    Standin ovation.

  • Three Ring Binders

    I really like your site.. keep it up

  • Noah Iliinsky

    Sorry I’m late to the game here.

    In my chapter in Beautiful Visualization, I suggest the four key elements are:
    - novel
    - informative
    - efficient
    - aesthetic

    They map pretty closely to your categories above. I bet we could figure it out over drinks.

    Best, Noah

  • Lvcifer

    Great!!! I am going to use this on my thesis proposal. Hope you’re okay with it!!
    I’ll give you a credit.

  • JobApplicationGuy

    Very interesting and I think you nailed it on the head.

  • shahzad

    i love it well design, excellent!