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40 data vis and infographics quotes

A collection of insights from some of the most well-known scholars and practitioners

November 18, 2014

dataviz quotes

In the past couple of years, we had the opportunity to interview some of the most respected and well-known names in visualization and data journalism. Each one of those long reads brings with it a number of interesting insights that could easily lead to a whole new set of discussions – or at very least, lead you to think about things from a different perspective.

So, as we revisited all those interviews, we gathered 40 quotes that are provocative in some ways, truthful in many ways, and pertinent in all ways, as said by some of the top scholars and practitioners out there, including Alberto Cairo, Santiago Ortiz, Andy Kirk, Manuel Lima and Paolo Ciuccarelli, among others. Obviously, these quotes gain full sense when read in the proper context that they were said, so please don’t forget to take a look at the full interviews before passing your agree/disagree judgement. The links are below each quote.

That said, feel free to comment on any of these quotes either in the comments below or on Twitter (suggested hashtag: #datavizquotes). Hope you enjoy this first selection with 40 quotes about data visualization and infographics:

Information graphics should be aesthetically pleasing but many designers think about aesthetics before they think about structure, about the information itself, about the story the graphic should tell.

(Prof. Alberto Cairo, The Functional Art, interviewed in June, 26, 2012)

Designing an information graphic, a visual display of data or phenomena, is a moral act. We should strive for clarity, rigor, and depth. That’s the way to regain the credibility we’ve lost, as a community.

(Prof. Alberto Cairo, The Functional Art, interviewed in June, 26, 2012)

Human visual perception is grounded on a single set of biological and psychological principles, regardless of culture. Cultural differences should be take into account, but being aware that there are common foundations for what we do.”

(Prof. Alberto Cairo, The Functional Art, interviewed in June, 26, 2012)

Kids should learn how to read and create graphics from a very young age. Most kids are natural-born artists, as we humans are a visual species. We should take advantage of that, as graphics and illustrations can be such a powerful weapon for understanding and communicating.

(Prof. Alberto Cairo, The Functional Art, interviewed in June, 26, 2012)

Many people are becoming interested in the subject [of data visualization] but, like most of us before now, they won’t have received the benefit of training or education around the subject. This isn’t just professionals, either. We should really be thinking and responding to how we should interject potential teaching into schools and universities, so the next generation is better equipped at this vital discipline.

(Andy Kirk, Visualising Data, interviewed in July, 10, 2012)

Information visualization is just a language with everything to be discovered, and we won’t discover new awesomeness without failing. The future of information visualization is being shaped by projects that fail in many senses and that are being criticized.

(Santiago Ortiz, moebio.com, interviewed in August, 19, 2012)

Our culture is becoming extremely obsessed in converting every source of information in a source of data. With more and more people and companies producing data-visualization, reality is being mapped by its representations!

(Santiago Ortiz, moebio.com, interviewed in August, 19, 2012)

Every time I read something like ‘Tufte wouldn’t approve…’ I recall Einstein never approved quantum mechanics and for many decades insisted the universe was static, Gandhi was a misogynist, in 2004 Bill Gates predicted the death of Spam in the following two years, and a long etcetera…

(Santiago Ortiz, moebio.com, interviewed in August, 19, 2012)

Working in this field allows you (obligates you) to transit through extremely different realities, cultural, technical and science contexts. Reality is everything that is a source of information.

(Santiago Ortiz, moebio.com, interviewed in August, 19, 2012)

Infographics people are used to handle different kinds of tools, used to be the vanguard of the innovation in newsrooms, so they have adopted all those tools to create visual pieces, more complete than simple texts

(Chiqui Esteban, Infographics News, interviewed in September, 05, 2012)

‘Infographics’ are a trend. It may eventually fade away, though I don’t see it happening over the next 5 years. But a thing that will stay here forever is the need for data visualization.

(Uldis Leifert, Infogr.am interviewed in October, 30, 2012)

The main difference between journalistic and artistic infographics is that, while in the first information must try to be as objective as possible, the second supports a complete subjectivity and can lend itself to different interpretations, all of them valid. That’s the concept of ‘subjective infographic’, something apparently contradictory.

(Jaime Serra, La Vanguardia, interviewed in November, 19, 2012)

Infographics will continue to exist in any media format that is committed to quality, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be something with value nowadays, and making infographics is expensive.

(Jaime Serra, La Vanguardia, interviewed in November, 19, 2012)

I think it’s a mistake that traditional media tries to compete with the digital media. Digital media is a wonderful excuse to change the paper size in the opposite direction to which we are doing: more text, more analysis, more depth, more rigor, less and better edited images – i.e. better journalism.

(Jaime Serra, La Vanguardia, interviewed in November, 19, 2012)

I can’t imagine a society without anyone fulfilling the role the media has played. Citizen journalism is not journalism, it’s just raw data.

(Jaime Serra, La Vanguardia, interviewed in November, 19, 2012

Every professional working in a newspaper should feel, think, be a journalist. Typesetters, photographers, graphic designers, the goal is to explain the news and tell the stories in the most attractive, accurate and simple way as possible.

(Jaime Serra, La Vanguardia, interviewed in November, 19, 2012

I strongly believe that universities – especially journalism and design courses – should take the lead in creating research labs to think of innovation as a premise, with the production of infographics for different platforms, readers and realities.

(Prof. Tattiana Teixeira, Santa Catarina University, interviewed in December, 12, 2012)

One would think that there are universal tenets of design that should apply to work in any culture. And there are some basics, like clarity of purpose, functionality and emotional connection. But the application of those tenets is very different when you compare work from South America, eastern Europe or Asia.

(Tim Frank, NewsPageDesigner.org, interviewed in February, 20, 2013)

If we want this popularity to be more than a temporary trend, data visualization has to mature and develop a critical eye on its own performance, functionality, and influence.

(Manuel Lima, Visual Complexity, interviewed in April, 03, 2013)

I think that for many universities – except the ones with computers science departments, where Information Visualization has a long tradition – the subject of visualization came as a surprise, and now they are trying to fill the gap

(Prof. Paolo Ciuccarelli, Density Design Lab, interviewed in April, 18, 2013)

Courses of data and information visualization and infographics are growing everywhere, but what I think is missing is the awareness of how much interdisciplinary are these disciplines; how much “humanity” is in them: it’s something that cannot be driven by technology alone. Thus, one of the main obstacles for me is the disciplinary shortsightedness of some academic domains, and a kind of disciplinary “xenophobia”.

(Prof. Paolo Ciuccarelli, Density Design Lab, interviewed in April, 18, 2013)

I think the organizations that mostly help rising the bar and moving forward are all the other disciplines and professionals that are discovering nowadays what visualization can do for them: from sociology to humanities, from lawyers and managers to decision makers and urban planners, new and often unexpected areas are addressing visualization with novel questions and specific needs.In most of the cases these new questions cannot be answered with the traditional/standard solutions.

(Prof. Paolo Ciuccarelli, Density Design Lab, interviewed in April, 18, 2013)

I read a lot of critics and comments evidently showing that their authors no longer take the trouble to consider what was the purpose, the target and the context of the visualization under critics. I see a lot of preconception or misinterpretation in many of these discussions

(Prof. Paolo Ciuccarelli, Density Design Lab, interviewed in April, 18, 2013)

The great thing is that the wealth of free tools has changed the relationship between readers and journalists forever. The data belongs to everyone now and everyone has the power to visualize it.

(Simon Rogers, SimonRogers.net, interviewed in May, 13, 2013)

Excel is the primary visualization tool in organizations, and we can’t ignore that if we want to increase the graphical literacy of the people. For many of them, either Excel is the only tool they have access to, or are simply not available to learn a new tool (much less a programming language), or is the only format that they can share without many compatibility concerns.

(Jorge Camões, ExcelCharts.com, interviewed in June, 25, 2013)

The attitude when dealing with data must be different, and many organizations only see this change in quantitative terms, without realizing, or without bothering, with the qualitative dimension. This results frequently in analysis errors and lower returns than expected. It’s useless to think of “big data” if the end result is a 3D pie chart flying in a Powerpoint presentation.

(Jorge Camões, ExcelCharts.com, interviewed in June, 25, 2013)

The great challenge for organizations, and the opportunities this presents, is not in data visualization technology but the ability to keep more sophisticated employees processing data essential to their functions.

(Jorge Camões, ExcelCharts.com, interviewed in June, 25, 2013)

Data visualization doesn’t live in an ethereal dimension, separated from the data. When there’s a large number of pie-charts in a report or a presentation, there is something wrong in the organization, and it’s not the pie. A pie chart is a potential symptom of lack of data analysis skills that have to be resolved.

(Jorge Camões, ExcelCharts.com, interviewed in June, 25, 2013)

In literature, I can’t say that the story A is better than the poem B, I have to compare stories with stories and poems with poems, despite being all literature. The same applies in data visualization.

(Jorge Camões, ExcelCharts.com, interviewed in June, 25, 2013)

All the possibilities that infographic design offers can be used in every kind of publication. It’s just a matter of having the right topic at the right time.

(Luíz Iria, InfografIria, interviewed in August, 27, 2013)

Beauty on data visualization arises from hitting a certain sweet spot between order and chaos, exactly the point where the information is really rich and seems infinite, but there is still enough structure and guidance to lead you from one interesting discovery to the next one.

(Moritz Stefaner, moritz.stefaner.eu., interviewed in March, 20, 2014)

There are loads of projects, conference talks, blog posts, books – but very little actual dialogue about data visualization

(Moritz Stefaner, moritz.stefaner.eu., interviewed in March, 20, 2014)

If policymakers and those trying to affect policy can’t effectively communicate their ideas—and visualization is a key tool in those efforts—it will be hard to convert those ideas into improved policy.

(Jon Schwabish, policyviz.com, interviewed in June, 03, 2014)

There are some good examples but, for the most part, sound journalistic graphics editing and the “data visualization” crowd have yet to meet formally and work together.

(Juan Velasco, 5W Graphics, interviewed in July, 08, 2014)

Open data isn’t a silver bullet to eliminate corruption and transform government.

(Eva Constantaras, Internews, interviewed in September, 02, 2014)

Low levels of data, digital and graphical literacy among the general population mean that even if the newspaper or television station uses the visualization, it isn’t a sure thing that people will understand what it means.

(Eva Constantaras, Internews, interviewed in September, 02, 2014)

We need to grow cohesive open data communities that include open data aggregators and advocates, think tanks and civic hackers that make sense of the data and journalists who can visualize and get the stories out to citizens.

(Eva Constantaras, Internews, interviewed in September, 02, 2014)

Data without some sort of analysis is just noise. If it’s raining outside right now, we know it’s raining, but that’s it. However, knowing what the weather was the entire week, we can probably make some conclusion about the season we’re in and what kind of weather we’re expecting.

(Irene Ros, Bocoup, interviewed in October, 02, 2014)

Finding the right visual method is only half the battle though, and I wish we talked more about the other half. Providing context, showing our own uncertainty, offering some narrative and guidance are all things that are critical to augmenting a user’s experience and understanding. If we want to improve the visual data literacy of our audience, then we are responsible for providing those things.

(Irene Ros, Bocoup, interviewed in October, 02, 2014)

Front end engineers who traditionally worked within the constraints of CRUD apps are having to also add charting and think more about data­ driven behavior. This means we will need more high quality educational content and better integration points between traditional web application frameworks and data visualization.

(Irene Ros, Bocoup, interviewed in October, 02, 2014)

 

Like we said, this is nothing but a quick round up with some of many insights you’ll find in our exclusive interviews. And if you have any other favorite quote, share it on Twitter using #datavizquotes – we’ll most certainly do a follow up post with the best ones.

Written by Tiago Veloso

Tiago Veloso is the founder and editor of Visualoop and Visualoop Brasil . He is Portuguese, currently based in Bonito, Brazil.

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