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How to Be an Educated Consumer of Infographics: David Byrne on the Art-Science of Visual Storytelling | Brain Pickings


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Byrne addresses the healthy skepticism many of us harbor towards the universal potency of infographics, reminding us that the medium is not the message — the message is the message:

A good infographic … is — again — elegant, efficient, and accurate. But do they matter? Are infographics just things to liven up a dull page of type or the front page of USA Today? Well, yes, they do matter. We know that charts and figures can be used to support almost any argument. . . . Bad infographics are deadly!

One would hope that we could educate ourselves to be able to spot the evil infographics that are being used to manipulate us, or that are being used to hide important patterns and information. Ideally, an educated consumer of infographics might develop some sort of infographic bullshit detector that would beep when told how the trickle-down economic effect justifies fracking, for example. It’s not easy, as one can be seduced relatively easily by colors, diagrams and funny writing.

Good content will always trump a pretty design.

Great stories make great infographics.

Great stories are sometimes a fiction.

Stories are everything - all the data analysis, all the reports, all the visualizations - are there to give someone a story that they can pass on - to get sponsorship, to get budget, to get time, to get resources, to get permission. This is very much how we at Mo-Data work, we write the stories that get told.

(and anything by David Byrne... do you remember this http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/ppt1.html ?) 

I didn't remember that, Mo. Good link!

Many stories are embellished for the benefit of the story.

Well-crafted fiction makes stories more memorable and/or actionable.

I think all stories are fiction because they can only filter, delete and distort reality through our own frames of reference.  So peace to all who want to share fiction as fact or vice versa, the relevance to me of any communication is when the information presented is conveyed to me in recognizably useful fashion.

And in that light infographics can often beat "good content" everyday of the week, simply because pictures are often more recognizable and accessible to people than long, linear paragraphs of cogent and highly relevant thinking.  

Edward Tufte writes elegantly and persuasively about the power of visual information and presents many cases where critical information presentation failed simply because of poor visual organization in format, e.g. the O-Ring disaster that caused the space shuttle Columbia explosion was proven due to bad powerpoint presentations of the known critical information that the rings would fail at certain cold temparatures--all known data, but simply not presented in a format that engineers recognized as priority useful information.

Shame that good content did not prevail on that day...

Whereas my mind went to Arthur Anderson's and Enron's misleading pro formas ....

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