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Let’s Debate the Issue of Aesthetics in Data Visualization… on Television

Let's Debate the Issue of Aesthetics in Data Visualization... on Television: "


BBC television seems to have embraced informing people of the power (and dangers) of infographics. Several months before Hans Rosling's television documentary 'The Joy of Stats', they even took up data visualization and infographics as a subject of intense debate. More specifically, on a episode of News Night, Information is Beautiful author David McCandless dueled with 'Anti Design' initiator Neville Brody, a 'legendary designer who is the original art director of The Face'.

Interestingly, the actual discussion topic quickly focused on the potential misuse of beauty in data visualization, which ultimately might make them 'too mesmerizing, too beguiling, too pretty' (I confess, I had to look the 2nd verb up). Without much consideration, the moderator put up several infographics of one of the two guests and invited the other one to vent some critiques. What started off with a friendly 'Congratulations David! I would like that on my wall!' quickly shifted into an intellectual argument that nailed the work as the epitome of what should not come out after '25 years of Thatcher locking up culture'. While no-one took the trouble of asking what actually should come out instead, the moderator was quick to remark: 'Are you more coffee table graphics?'

So, in short, if you want to see the utter surprise when a talented and acclaimed information designer is so openly criticized on national television, then watch the movie below.

What should David McCandless have answered instead?

Here is David's own take, as he recently mentioned in an interesting interview at Visualising Data: 'I forgot how TV journalism reduces debate down to two opposing polarities: for and against. Which I think for a topic like information design is a lame approach. How can you be against information design? It's just a technique! So I was caught on the hop a bit and felt quite bemused by what was going on. I thought we might have a debate about its potential and its limitations. But no.'.


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