The next big thing

Posted: April 18th, 2010 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

flame dragon, by peter blaskovic (created in flame painter)

As I was organizing my RSS feeds in feedly, I stumbled upon Gert K. Nielsen’s piece on Visual Journalism, written in March 22, 2010.  The venturesome title of Nielsen’s post was “The next big thing in infographics - five criterias and a solution“. Intriguing and stimulating. I was immediately on board. That is until I started reading his five recommendations and final proposed solution. You should read it and take your own conclusions, but I found Nielsen’s piece absolutely bewildering.

  1. The first recommendation, on the need for computer generated infographics, reads more like a natural progression of the field rather than a recommendation, and is perhaps the most blunt of the list. The second and third criterias are on the other hand a bit more disconcerting.
  2. “It must be beautiful”, Nielsen says in the beginning of his second suggestion. Nothing wrong with that, but you would expect some reflection on the benefits of aesthetics to follow that statement. However, Nielsen appears to be infatuated with aesthetics solely for its popularity… As he explains, “right now the interest is on presentation much more than the content”.
  3. But the third criteria is even more baffling. “It has to be somewhat ambiguous”, states Nielsen. Yes, take a deep breath and read it again. And perhaps like me, you’ll wonder, what? But wait, Nielsen immediately comes to our rescue, fundamenting his view with a remarkable argument. “Describing things in black and white and sharp vector lines is too fanatic. Blends are much better suited to describe a complex situation”. Yes, let’s reconsider this fanaticism for objectivity, clarity and content. The future of infographics is ambiguousness!
  4. (I didn’t quite understand this point, so if someone does please explain.)
  5. Moving on to his fifth criteria, since I couldn’t grasp the fourth, Nielsen asserts “It needs to work in online presentations too”. This could be an interesting starting point to an analysis on the different contexts of use of infographics and the variety of platforms it could explore, but Nielsen falls short in his explanation, merely stating that infograthics could be integrated in online presentations “perhaps by moving or evolving over time”. A very light investigation, to say the least.

But perhaps the most disquieting part of the post was the solution proposed by Nielsen for the future of the field. As he explains: “The solution I came up with is particles in 3D-programs. Brilliant! According to Nielsen, there’s no particular downside to 3D particles (think about clarity and legibility), apart from its demanding learning curve, or in other words, the time it takes to learn these “really tough concepts”. In his pursuit for ambiguousness it’s not entirely surprising that Nielsen fails to consider any other drawback to his formula. His proposed solution becomes slightly more tangible, when he presents an example of this vision: Flame. As he explains “the ability to paint with ‘flames’ fits right into my expectation of seeing graphics with an appearance that fits the current times”.

I will not expand too much on how I find this view seriously distressing, since I’ve done it before and again. But this leads to the growing confusion that Robert Kosara alludes in his latest post, The Visualization Cargo Cult. Gert Nielsen’s post, as puzzling as it might seem, is a reflection of a seriously disturbing view, that sees objective infographics as a thing of the past, and appealing ambiguousness as a much better fit for the “current times”. I just hope it doesn’t become a contagious meme.