Editor interview: Designing “Data Flow”

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Yesterday in Book review: World’s best info-design in “Data Flow” we explored an exciting new book on data visualization. Today we ask Gestalten Publisher and Editor in Chief Robert Klanten to comment on the current state of info-design and the genesis of Data Flow: Visualising Information in Graphic Design:

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• Where did the idea of creating Data Flow come from? Any influences?

Information graphics are an interesting topic we have always been following. It has always been very much tied with websites, interactive and screen design, and now we felt there was enough new material to show how much it has matured in the last couple of years.

• Most people get exposed to info-vis in a limited fashion via their daily newspaper, newsweeklies, TV and other popular media. Specialized magazines, trade books, marketing collaterals, text books, etc. where more evolved forms of info-vis might be found are not mass marketed. Have you noticed if info-vis is making more inroads into the popular culture?

First there is a growing demand for information graphics but beyond demand I feel that the aesthetics are somehow en – vogue. I think that everybody is aware of how interconnected our lives have become through media and how the sheer amount of information, references and interests have exploded.

Maybe the deeper logic is that modern people feel more comfortable seeing themselves as a part of a huge network, much rather than being a slice of a pie chart. Everyone has to find new ways of defining and locating oneself – graphic design is somehow providing this trend with adequate visuals.

• There is a vast divide between template-based info-design coupled to digital data sources that generate our daily intake of info-vis and one-off creations that require long and painstaking work by dedicated info-designers some of whose work can be seen in Data Flow. Our digital tools are not yet capable of facilitating real-time, or even reasonably rapid, creation of rich and elegant visualization. Do you foresee a day when this gap might be narrowed?

This day is much closer than we all think. There is a huge demand for visualisation in technology, medicine, science, meteorology, etc and these solutions will make it in museums, onto fairs as well as other commercial applications. Computers are fast enough to handle the huge amount of data that is needed without causing delays handling the data. This is the key.

• In collecting your samples, have you noticed any differences among American, European and Asian approaches to info-design?

There are certain “folkloristic” preferences and traditions that always exists and become visible here and there. Britons are very image driven while continental Europeans are usually working with a reduced and clear structure and favour vector graphics. Americans expect “how to” instructions to come along with the information while Asians are keen to find out on their own.

But it can generally be said that the guys who have devoted themselves to this subject are very diligently trying to avoid local habits and try to react upon the expectations and the intelligence of the viewer much rather than trying to do something which is self-servingly stylish or traditional.

• I assume that some samples were eliminated from the book as they couldn’t fulfill the “Visual metaphors are a powerful aid to human thinking” criteria. With some samples, did you have any difficulty in drawing a distinction between the purely decorative but perhaps inspirational and informative but perhaps purely instructional?

I think we tried to cover the subject in its entirety from instruction to inspiration. There are examples in the book that might use the aesthetics of information graphics without being “informative” in a classical sense. There are other examples that are trying their best to create / discuss new possibilities of visual display. It is quite subjective to determine where one thing begins and the next thing starts and in some cases we have decided to leave this decision to the reader.

We are not delivering a final verdict but try to see this book as a launch pad that provides the reader with enough knowledge and theory and open questions.

• Were there perhaps more patterns beyond the six that you focused on (datasphere, datanets, datascape, datalogy, datanoid, datablocks) that you may have found too restrictive, specialized or amorphous?

Yes, absolutely. Just like information graphics, we had to build an editorial container and include as much information (chapters, types of applications) to create consistent and instructive examples and exclude more freakish approaches for the sake of remaining legible.

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