Many people have responded to Amy Balliett ‘s article on The Do’s And Don’ts Of Infographic Design, including Nathan Yau’s rebuttal. You will find many comments about why her points don’t make much sense, and why we all believe she needs to learn more about information design basics (I mean, do you understand the chart above, which she uses as an example of good infographics?). Rather than continue on specifics about the actual infographics, I’d like to elaborate on the deep personal disappointment I felt when I read Balliet’s Do’s and Don’ts.
When I departed the working world to attend graduate school, I did so seeking something that brought more meaning to my work than commercial graphic design and communication could offer (I will add marketing and advertising to this category). It was a long and confusing journey that ultimately changed my life: in discussing my graduate thesis with my professor, Ramone Muñoz, I learned of Richard Wurman’s writing and work. I had found information design.
The specific article I read many years ago from Richard Wurman was a Design Journal publication called “Hats.” I devoured it. I had finally found what I had been looking for: substance, essence, a search for the truth, a focus on people. In short, information design was a logical side to design that helped people in their everyday lives, and in their everyday search for understanding. I found my ‘home’.
So when I read Amy Balliett ‘s article after many years of living and breathing information design, I was filled with sadness. At a time when information design in its varied forms is more commonplace than ever and is being recognized as an important aspect of changemaking, she has taken a huge step backwards and stripped out everything good about information design thinking, replacing it instead with marketing fluff — pure visual appeal, distortion of content, and flat-out disregard for people in favor of profit. She recasts information design as all the things I was running from (Sell, Sell, Sell), in a public forum for all to hear — and worse yet — to replicate.
Information design principles should not be rewritten by relative newcomers who show no awareness or appreciation of the field’s long history. Let’s remember and learn from the true legacy of some of the great information design pioneers:
Otto Neurath, who developed Isotype as a universal language that would unite people and bring literacy to the illiterate
Jacques Bertin, who created graphical frameworks to improve understanding and visualizations of statistics
Richard Wurman, whose passion to make information easily understandable spurred a generation of “information architects”
Edward Tufte, whose valuable lessons from history demonstrate the art and science of making clear thinking visible
These people were out to help change the world, not sell another box of cornflakes or drive traffic to websites!
Thank you to the editors of Smashing Magazine for making the rebuttal possible. It is encouraging to see Nathan Yau advocate the real best practices of information design and data visualization: focus on content and tell a clear story that will engage readers. However, there are many more voices and insights yet unrecognized in this conversation. Information design contains many practicing professionals with deep knowledge.
Let’s elevate the conversation, please.