Information Visualization Manifesto

Posted: August 30th, 2009 | Author: Manuel Lima | Filed under: Uncategorized |

“The purpose of visualization is insight, not pictures”

Ben Shneiderman (1999)

Over the past few months I’ve been talking with many people passionate about Information Visualization who share a sense of saturation over a growing number of frivolous projects. The criticism is slightly different from person to person, but it usually goes along these lines: “It’s just visualization for the sake of visualization”, “It’s just eye-candy”, “They all look the same”.

When Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viégas wrote about Vernacular Visualization, in their excellent article on the July-August 2008 edition of interactions magazine, they observed how the last couple of years have witnessed the tipping point of a field that used to be locked away in its academic vault, far from the public eye. The recent outburst of interest for Information Visualization caused a huge number of people to join in, particularly from the design and art community, which in turn lead to many new projects and a sprout of fresh innovation. But with more agents in a system you also have a stronger propensity for things to go wrong.

I don’t tend to be harshly censorial of many of the projects that over-glorify aesthetics over functionality, because I believe they’re part of our continuous growth and maturity as a discipline. They also represent important steps in this long progression for discovery, where we are still trying to understand how we can find new things with the rising amounts of data at our disposal. However, I do feel it’s important to reemphasize the goals of Information Visualization, and at this stage make a clear departure from other parallel, yet distinct practices.

When talking to Stuart Eccles from Made by Many, after one of my lectures in August 2009, the idea of writing a manifesto came up and I quickly decided to write down a list of considerations or requirements, that rapidly took the shape of an Information Visualization Manifesto. Some will consider this insightful and try to follow these principles in their work. Others will still want to pursue their own flamboyant experiments and not abide to any of this. But in case the last option is chosen, the resulting outcome should start being categorized in a different way. And there are many designations that can easily encompass those projects, such as New Media Art, Computer Art, Algorithmic Art, or my favorite and recommended term: Information Art.

Even though a clear divide is necessary, it doesn’t mean that Information Visualization and Information Art cannot coexist. I would even argue they should, since they can learn a lot from each other and cross-pollinate ideas, methods and techniques. In most cases the same dataset can originate two parallel projects, respectively in Information Visualization and Information Art. However, it’s important to bear in mind that the context, audience and goals of each resulting project are intrinsically distinct.

In order for the aspirations of Information Visualization to prevail, here are my 10 directions for any project in this realm:

Form Follows Function

Form doesn’t follow data. Data is incongruent by nature. Form follows a purpose, and in the case of Information Visualization, Form follows Revelation. Take the simplest analogy of a wooden chair. Data represents all the different wooden components (seat, back, legs) that are then assembled according to an ultimate goal: to seat in the case of the chair, or to reveal and disclose in the case of Visualization. Form in both cases arises from the conjunction of the different building blocks, but it never conforms to them. It is only from the problem domain that we can ascertain if a layout may be better suited and easier to understand than others. Independently of the subject, the purpose should always be centered on explanation and unveiling, which in turn leads to discovery and insight.

Start with a Question

“He who is ashamed of asking is afraid of learning”, says a famous Danish proverb. A great quality to anyone doing work in the realm of Information Visualization is to be curious and inquisitive. Every project should start with a question. An inquiry that leads you to discover further insights on the system, and in the process answer questions that weren’t even there in the beginning. This investigation might arise from a personal quest or the specific needs of a client or audience, but you should always have a defined query to drive your work.

Interactivity is Key

As defined by Ben Shneiderman, Stuart K. Card and Jock D. Mackinlay, “Information Visualization is the use of computer-supported, interactive, visual representations of abstract data to amplify cognition”. This well-known statement highlights how interactivity is an integral part of the field’s DNA.  Any Information Visualization project should not only facilitate understanding but also the analysis of the data, according to specific use cases and defined goals. By employing interactive techniques, users are able to properly investigate and reshape the layout in order to find appropriate answers to their questions. This capability becomes imperative as the degree of complexity of the portrayed system increases. Visualization should be recognized as a discovery tool.

Cite your Source

Information Visualization, as any other means of conveying information, has the power to lie, to omit, and to be deliberately biased. To avoid any misconception you should always cite your source. If your raw material is a public dataset, the results of a scientific study, or even your own personal data, you should always disclose where it came from, provide a link to it, and if possible, clarify what was used and how it was extracted. By doing so you allow people to review the original source and properly validate its authenticity. It will also bring credibility and integrity to your work. This principle has long been advocated by Edward Tufte and should be widely applied to any project that visually conveys external data.

The power of Narrative

Human beings love stories and storytelling is one of the most successful and powerful ways to learn, discover and disseminate information. Your project should be able to convey a message and easily encapsulate a compelling narrative.

Do not glorify Aesthetics

Aesthetics are an important quality to many Information Visualization projects and a critical enticement at first sight, but it should always be seen as a consequence and never its ultimate goal.

Look for Relevancy

Extracting relevancy in a set of data is one of the hardest pursuits for any machine. This is where natural human abilities such as pattern recognition and parallel processing come in hand. Relevancy is also highly dependent on the final user and the context of interaction. If the relevancy ratio is high it can increase the possibility of comprehension, assimilation and decision-making.

Embrace Time

Time is one of the hardest variables to map in any system. It’s also one of the richest. If we consider a social network, we can quickly realize that a snapshot in time would only tell us a bit of information about the community. On the other hand, if time had been properly measured and mapped, it would provide us with a much richer understanding of the changing dynamics of that social group. We should always consider time when our targeted system is affected by its progression.

Aspire for Knowledge

A core ability of Information Visualization is to translate information into knowledge. It’s also to facilitate understanding and aid cognition. Every project should aim at making the system more intelligible and transparent, or find an explicit new insight or pattern within it. It should always provide a polished gem of knowledge. As Jacques Bertin eloquently stated on his Sémiologie Graphique, first published in 1967, “it is the singular characteristic of a good graphic transcription that it alone permits us to evaluate fully the quality of the content of the information”.

Avoid gratuitous visualizations

“Information gently but relentlessly drizzles down on us in an invisible, impalpable electric rain”. This is how physicist Hans Christian von Baeyer starts his book Information: The New Language of Science. To the growing amounts of publicly available data, Information Visualization needs to respond as a cognitive filter, an empowered lens of insight, and should never add more noise to the flow. Don’t assume any visualization is a positive step forward. In the context of Information Visualization, simply conveying data in a visual form, without shedding light on the portrayed subject, or even worst, making it more complex, can only be considered a failure.

31 Comments on “Information Visualization Manifesto”

  1. 1 Tom Carden said at 12:40 am on August 31st, 2009:

    It’s a 99% great list, but did you have to open with “Form doesn’t follow data”?

    I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, if I had a one item manifesto it would be “form follows data” full stop. Can you expand more on why you think that’s not the case?

  2. 2 Manuel Lima said at 2:00 am on August 31st, 2009:

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for the first line of feedback on this list. I’m well aware it’s a sentence of contentious nature, but I felt it was important to put the emphasis back to function and purpose. Before we engage on a philosophical debate over form and data, I will briefly explain what I mean by both terms. Form relates to the final visual output of the project: layout, graphics, text, colors, but also interface options and controls. Data is the smallest unit of information, and for simplicity sake we can think of data as fields on a database. Individually, most database fields (e.g. 4538) are unintelligible and incoherent. It’s only when many of these fields are put together with a particular intent that a visualization can be generated. A simple MySQL query is already indicative of intent. Therefore, we can say that form arises from data (as its key building block), but it’s the purpose or function of the piece that shapes the final outcome. It’s also the only way we can evaluate the success of a project - by considering its intent, its “problem domain”.

  3. 3 Pedro Cruz said at 3:39 am on August 31st, 2009:


    Indeed, starting with the “Form follows function” jargon followed by a controversial “Form doesn’t follow data” forces to exquisitely define those concepts — that’s all about the manifesto.
    Nowadays even in traditional design we can find some approaches where the line between art and design is tenuous — according to someone’s concepts of course. When one’s got too much peers in one’s field, not everyone will be doing it right. That’s when it argues to define the barriers of a field.
    I agree that form does not exists solely by it’s data. The act of exploring that information with an objective intent is what should shape it’s appearance. As Flusser says, the word design means “intention”, “plan”, “intent”, “aim” and “basic structure” (as well as “scheme” and “plot” lol).
    The manifesto initiative is very good, barriers should be established — with all the respect and seduction towards information art and more generally new media art.
    Because of some aesthetic’s seductions, I find myself having some slight reluctancy towards the “Do not glorify aesthetics” key tone. Aesthetics can (and should, and it happens a lot) become a second major goal of lots of projects. The aesthetic’s NO just looks too peremptory.

  4. 4 Benjamin said at 5:38 am on August 31st, 2009:

    Thanks for laying out these basic principles, Manuel. I agree in general with all of your points and I’am looking forward to hear some thoughts from the community.

  5. 5 Jerome Cukier said at 9:33 am on August 31st, 2009:

    There are a few parts which make me react. I share your view on what you call frivolous and flamboyant projects, which are over-glorified, while acknowledging that more useful applications benefit from experiments of visualization for the sake of visualization.

    Start with a question is the statement with which I couldn’t agree more. Visualization is not the truth or the essence of data, it is a subjective interpretation. So it is biased by nature (see point 4) which is not necessarily a bad thing.

    On interactivity, I am aware of the power of interactive visual analysis, yet I feel that visualization englobes static projects too. There are displays that communicate conclusions, and displays that enable analysis. Both rely on perception to allow greater understanding. For the former kind, which tends to be simpler, adding possibilities to interact is not always relevant - it can obscure the intended message or make the project too difficult to use. I’m not saying that interactivity (or complexity) should be avoided, but they should be only used if it serves the original intent of the designer.

  6. 6 infosthetics said at 9:54 am on August 31st, 2009:

    A truly great manifesto, with some strong guidelines everyone should try to follow!

    But if you allow, 3 comments:

    1. Readers interested in this topic should be encouraged to read some additional articles, next to Wattenberg et al.\’s definition of \"Vernacular Visualization\" you mentioned. For instance, Paul Sack\’s \"<a href=\"\">Aesthetics of Information Visualization</a>\", Pousman et al.\’s \"<a href=\"\">Casual [sic] Visualization</a>\", Brad Paley\’s \"<a href=\"\">Infovis Tests</a>\", and if I may, my own \"<a href=\"\">Towards a Model of Information Aesthetic Visualization</a>\".

    2. I am truly disappointed with the introduction/motivation of the manifesto, e.g. that some \"visualizations\" are criticized as \"just eye candy\". This lack of respect does not fit well with your assertion that information visualization and information art should coexist. One would equally expect some people would criticize scientific scatterplots of obscure physical phenomena as \"unintelligible and unpleasant to watch\", but they seem never to speak up as much. And in terms of quality, surely the scientific field of information visualization produces some projects that are not of superb quality?

    3. Lastly, I am surprised you draw a line between \"information visualization\" and \"information art\". Surely \"<a href=\"\">We Feel Fine</a>\" cannot be labeled as a \"flamboyant experiment\" and thus \"information art\"? But does this project sit in the same category as a hierarchical parallel coordinates plot of a highly multivariate dataset? Instead, I want to argue for a middle-ground, whatever name it has, where beauty meets usability, and all of your (again appealing) guidelines fit best.

  7. 7 anon said at 12:37 pm on August 31st, 2009:

    I’m OK with “form doesn’t follow data” if what Manuel means is that the same data can have different “best” presentations for different audiences or purposes.

    However, let me argue with “start with a question.” Number 1, in many scientific contexts it’s much better to explore your data with an open mind and see where it leads you. Number 2, this kind of pedestrian, task-focused viewpoint rules out some lovely artistic examples. (What is the question addressed by Jason Salavon’s aggregations, for instance?)

    I also would argue with “interactivity is key.” On the contrary: If it’s possible to display the data without any interactivity, all the better. Often a mouseover label is just a crutch for a designer who can’t figure out how to create clean static labels, for example.

  8. 8 Manuel Lima said at 1:00 pm on August 31st, 2009:

    Thanks to everyone for their words of encouragement and appraisal.

    To Andrew (infosthetics)

    Thanks for the articles; I think an important addition to this manifesto will be a list of seminal papers and articles, so that people can further pursue their interest on this topic.

    On Aesthetics

    To further explain the motivations of the manifesto I will provide you with an evocative example. A few days ago I was drawn to David McCandless’ blog – whose work I do admire – and on his latest post (Timelines) David stated: “This is a straight data visualisation, rather than information design. That is, it’s not particularly useful, nor useable, nor meaningful.” I was perplexed, and left a comment on the post. Since when was Data/Information Visualization not meant to be useful, usable or meaningful? Unfortunately, for many people joining the field, this fallacy is holding true. And this is drastically threatening the field, by undermining its goals and expectations. Not only is the misconception growing but also the people who truly believe in the objective aim of Information Visualization are becoming disappointed, discouraged and generally saturated.

    This is why at this stage I propose a stronger divide between Information Visualization and Information Art, so that the aspirations of both fields can prevail and we don’t end up with a convoluted multi-purpose practice. This is where my opposition to the single pursuit of eye-candy and aesthetics, in the context of Information Visualization, come from. Of course we need to account for ambiguity and this is where the middle ground comes in place.

    I’m also on the frontline against unintelligible scientific visualizations. And this is precisely what we as a community can help improve. But this will only happen if we are clear on the goals and boundaries of Information Visualization.

    On the middle ground

    Yes, there’s a strong overlap between Information Visualization and Information Art, and many practitioners will operate in that boundary. Jonathan Harris is a great example; another one that comes to mind is Mark Lombardi. Lombardi was considered an artist, yet his meticulous investigations, which resemble a painstaking scientific inquiry, were all about disclose and reveal. Many others exist who solely operate on this borderline and this is the type of positive ambiguity that’s beneficial for both areas. I do believe there should be a middle ground between Information Visualization and Information Art. This not only facilitates cross-pollination but also constantly validates each independent pursuit.

    To Jerome

    On Interactivity

    I do see your point in regards to interactivity not being a requirement. And this is certainly the case for a broader definition of Visualization. However, and since we’re talking about specific fields and practices, one of the key benefits of Information Visualization, in opposition to parallel fields such as Information Design, is interactivity. It’s this “computer-supported, interactive” visual representation of data that sets the field apart from others.

    To Pedro Cruz – please read my note “On Aesthetics”.

  9. 9 Wes Grubbs said at 3:25 pm on August 31st, 2009:

    Data Visualization is quite a subjective field. The most difficult challenge is conveying an objective meaning out of any visualization because form, function and data only need to be slightly altered in many cases to tell a completely different story. My point being that as more and more people take part in anything (architecture, biology, law, web design even) you start to see the saturation mentioned above. And quite frankly, the more attempts you have at visualizations, the more difficult it will be to “invent” something new.

    In a way, I think this is a beautiful thing because it poses even greater challenges on people serious about their work to justify its meaning.

    There’s more I can say about this, but it’s great that you bring it up and good to discuss this as our field inevitably grows and evolves.

  10. 10 Tom Carden said at 4:15 pm on August 31st, 2009:

    Thanks for the clarification, Manuel, and sorry that time-zones mean I didn’t get time to respond sooner. Now there are several great comments so I have to think harder…

    I think my discomfort lies in your definition of data as singular; I always think of it as plural. Let’s face it, collections of data are what we’re interested in!

    Of course 4538 is incoherent. Nobody would “visualise” it except to prove a philosophical or minimalist point. But then rarely would one come across singular data anyway. If I said “form follows datasets” that would be more accurate, but then not as catchy for a manifesto :)

    I suppose it might behoove us to deconstruct even the most minimally structured datasets we receive/acquire and cultivate something of a beginner’s mind when addressing visualisation problems. Thinking about data singular (where no form is naturally suggested) might lead to freer thinking and result in more inventive forms. But then it might lead to more of the muddled & meanginless aesthetic objects I think you’re arguing against.

    I suppose I think that beginning with data plural is somewhat safer, since whatever pre-existing structure has been imposed on it will reflect at least some understanding of the world and some understanding of the system it represents. I don’t always want to keep that, but I rarely want to throw it all away either.

    Thanks for the food for thought!

  11. 11 Kim Rees said at 6:59 pm on August 31st, 2009:

    Hi Manuel,

    Thank you for taking a stand on this. You argument is compelling.

    However, I’m torn on your stance. I believe there is a wide spectrum of visualizations from the very mundane, graphically unpleasant, and incomprehensible to the flamboyant, aesthetically exciting, and incomprehensible. In the middle ground there are all manner of in-between states.

    I believe we should strive for the best of all worlds. Visualizations should be coherent, convey information, and be good looking.

    We can compare this to architecture. An architect may focus solely on the structure and not the aesthetic and fail. Or she may focus solely on the aesthetic not the structure and fail. It’s the great (and few) architects who excel at both who create the truly wonderful buildings.

    I realize that you are saying “don’t GLORIFY aesthetics.” You say aesthetics are a consequence, not a goal. I agree with the header, but not the argument. I believe aesthetics are crucial to a coherent visualization. I feel we should all strive to have visually appropriate and pleasing visualizations. I agree that the visuals should not be frivolous or heavy-handed, but they should not be subservient to our data either.

    Another minor point, I don’t believe that visualizations must tell a story or have a narrative. I think there’s room for exploratory infovis — ones that leave it up to the user to create their own experience and their own story.

    Thanks again for posting this. It’s sure to drive a lively discussion from the community.

  12. 12 Jer Thorp said at 7:23 pm on August 31st, 2009:


    There’s nothing like a manifesto to get a conversation started.

    Like Andrew I’d question a divide between Information Art and Information Visualization. This seems a bit too close to the ‘traditional’ art/science break that a lot of people & institutions have been trying so hard to bridge. Encouraging *more* artists to work with data and with visualization experts would seem to me to be a productive goal.

    In any case, classifying ‘flamboyant experiments’ or experimentation in general as Information Art is misleading. Experimentation has a role in any process. A flamboyant experiment could as easily be an attempt at design as it could be an attempt at art. Somehow art always gets the short end of the stick in this kind of sorting - useful vs. useless, serious vs. frivolous, important vs. unimportant, etc. I’d argue that work that might get classified as Information Art should be considered to be as serious and as important as and that which gets labelled as Information Visualization.

    Project by project, it may be possible to assign one label or another, but there will always be work that doesn’t fit in one mold or another. Similarly, there will be individuals & groups who will operate most effectively by straddling this border. This is a good thing.

    Thank-you for starting this discussion - I look forward to hearing what others have to say and what kind of a consensus may (or may not) be reached.


  13. 13 Manuel Lima said at 8:36 pm on August 31st, 2009:

    To Kim

    On the sweet spot

    If we would aim for the best scenario it would certainly have a balanced proportion of both worlds - function and aesthetics – aiming at a useful, usable, legible, insightful, revealing, engaging and appealing execution. However, this type of virtuous outcome is not the norm. If it were, I wouldn’t be writing this manifesto. Lately it seems one end of the spectrum has been pulled in a much more sturdily way than the other. A key drive for this manifesto is to restore that balance.

    I’m not in any way against aesthetics. I’m well aware of its benefits. In the context of Information Visualization, I oppose to aesthetics as the sole pursuit of an execution. Therefore the title: “Don’t glorify aesthetics”.

    You made a really good point on the self-made narrative that emerges from exploratory executions. I will consider this addition on a future iteration of the list.

    To Tom

    Data acquires many shapes and sizes, from a single database field to large interdependent datasets. The example provided of a single field was to reemphasize its unintelligible nature. Consider this alternative analogy. I think of data as the unwrapping of a recently purchased piece of IKEA furniture. Looking at all the components scattered across the floor, you cannot avoid feeling a bit puzzled on what to do next. You can either look at the paper or embrace your creativity and create an alternative object. But in both cases what will determine the form/shape/layout of the final piece will be your intent. Therefore, many derivations can result from this view, Form follows Intent, Form follows Purpose, etc. I simply decided to go for the most worn out, yet explicit statement - Form follows Function.

  14. 14 Manuel Lima said at 2:58 am on September 1st, 2009:

    To Jer

    You’re definitely right on the power of a manifesto to stir a debate. I’m very happy to see the community openly discussing our field and in the end, if nothing else, I hope this will result in a positive introspection.

    On the Divide

    One of the greatest qualities of Information Visualization, and certainly the main reason why I became interested in the field, is its diversity. It’s able to bring in people from all sorts of disciplines and backgrounds in a remarkably cohesive manner. In fact I do believe that Information Visualization is a great case for the harmonious marriage of Art and Science. I would never insinuate on a divide between these elements, since it would be simply illogical and baseless.

    However, as I stated before, “Lately it seems one end of the spectrum has been pulled in a much more sturdily way than the other.” And a key drive for this manifesto is to restore that balance.

    [Please refer to my reply to Andrew – On Aesthetics]

    On Experimentation

    I’m not against experimentation in any way. It’s a vital process in most domains, both in Art and Science. It’s through experimentation that we test our assumptions and validate our intent. I also don’t think that Information Art should get the short end of the stick when compared to Information Visualization. I believe they are equally relevant and important. If you look at, both areas are treated uniformly since they represent “important steps in this long progression for discovery, where we are still trying to understand how we can find new things with the rising amounts of data at our disposal”. Reiterating what I wrote: “Even though a clear divide is necessary, it doesn’t mean that Information Visualization and Information Art cannot coexist. I would even argue they should, since they can learn a lot from each other and cross-pollinate ideas, methods and techniques.”

    On Ambiguity

    A middle ground does exist and will probably continue to prosper. This positive ambiguity is in fact beneficial for both areas. [Please read my reply to Andrew on this topic]

  15. 15 Luciano Lobato said at 1:37 am on September 2nd, 2009:

    Hi Manuel,

    Thanks for the manifest. It’s a pleasure to see someone starting this discussion.

    I agree that too many visualizations projects we see today are frivolous (perhaps due to the growth of the field), but i don’t think that these projects should be classified as “artistic”. I think it’s the exact opposite. These are not artistic projects, but chart junk, as Tufte would say. Art goes beyond the eye-candy. In Picasso paintings (or other artists), there’s no (or just a little) quantitative information, but there’s a whole world of qualitative information. We can’t reduce information only to the quantitative dimension.

    One problem in the field that i see is the terminology we use. Information visualization x scientific visualization: does this mean that scientific information is not information? Science can’t use abstract data?
    Another problem: the term visualization itself. In my opinion, we don’t design visualizations, we design displays or presentations. The same way we don’t design experience, but design for experience or for behavior, we can’t design visualization or perception or knowledge or understanding itself. We design the means, not the ends.

    Luciano Lobato

  16. 16 David McCandless said at 12:12 pm on September 2nd, 2009:

    Fascinating discussion - thanks!

    [QUOTE]I was drawn to David McCandless’ blog – whose work I do admire – and on his latest post (Timelines) David stated: “This is a straight data visualisation, rather than information design. That is, it’s not particularly useful, nor useable, nor meaningful.” I was perplexed, and left a comment on the post. Since when was Data/Information Visualization not meant to be > useful, usable or meaningful? Unfortunately, for many people joining the field, this fallacy is holding true. And this is drastically threatening the field, by undermining its goals and expectations.[/QUOTE]

    In my defense, I was generalising.

    I come from a journalistic and web design background. So I’m always looking for good-looking visualizations with excellent useability that are easy to understand. I also want them to contain a story, a concept or a revelation I can hook into. That’s what I love. I don’t want *more* information. I don’t want to work hard to ‘get it’. I want to be shown something I haven’t seen before.

    (With the Timelines image, I admitted I broke my own rules. But that was because I was excited (and a bit intoxicated) by the idea of the image.)

    Chiming with some of the posts here, a lot of data visualizations I’ve encountered let the data override the useability. Or, from the other side, many designers and artists let the visuals over-ride the content. Or, journalists doing graphics don’t put enough good content or good data into their images.

    So, in short, many are not particularly useful, nor useable, nor meaningful.

    Some are great. But those are the ones we all get down on our knees to.

    I think those are the ones that combine form and function and concept and content.

    Early days in an exciting field…


  17. 17 David McCandless said at 12:13 pm on September 2nd, 2009:

    Manuel - thanks for this manifesto.

    I’m with you on most points, bar perhaps “Form follows function”.

    Form can follow from the concept. From the data. From the question. From the audience. From the medium. From the limits. From the budget!

    I’m not so sure about the necessity of Interactivity either. Sharing an image with an audience is pretty interactive. You’re beaming information directly into their eyes!

  18. 18 Moritz Stefaner said at 1:07 pm on September 2nd, 2009:

    Thanks for compiling this list of objectives, I think it is a very valuable resource - and, as we can already see, already a great starter for discussion.

    I agree on many points, but also have some concerns with this list of recommendations:

    (In the following, I will refer to information visualization as a design practice, i.e. the design of specific artifacts for making specific data sets better accessible, as opposed to, for instance, the general study of visual data representation or development of visualization algorithms for data structures.)

    * Specific techniques like interaction, narratives, or the use of time-based information can be valuable for a given challenge, but I just cannot see how this would apply to all works in the field. In contrast, I have always avoided narratives, as I believe that the stories inside a data set should be self-revealing in a good visualization, and to be explored according to the user’s interest, not my personal preconception.

    * Second, I am not sure what the exact difference between “Look for Relevancy”, “Spire for Knowledge” and “Avoid gratuitous visualizations”. Could they possibly be combined?

    * The “Cite your source” point is a strong one, I would even extend it towards responsible authorship in general. Any visualization is an act of selection, manipulation and creation of information authorship. Any author should make his sources, and personal contributions such as filtering, selection, transformations clear, and overall act, as a responsible journalist would.

    * My last concern is a lengthier one: Personally, I feel being part of the “second wave” of information visualization, where designers and web people in general entered this previously scientifically/HCI-oriented field. I think one of our main contributions was exactly to introduce a sense of liveliness, artfulness and aesthetics. Most importantly, with many people coming from time-based/interactive media, a new sense of the evocative character of visualization pieces is starting to form.

    Looking at the works of Jonathan Harris, Ben Fry, Martin Wattenberg and others, I can indeed see a strong “glorification of aesthetics” as driver for their works - if aesthetics is understood as the appeal emerging from a perfect correspondence of function, behavior and form. You can pick a rainbow color palette with full saturation for maximum discernability of colors, or you can pick one that - on a semiotic level - matches the semantics of your data set and transports some of the accents you as a designer want to set. And this component I am missing from the manifesto: the capability of great information visualization to communicate on all levels of visual language - from the visual data representation to the evocative, look-and-feel, “between the lines” appeal of the work as a whole. After all, we are still talking about information visualization, not data visualization, right?

    Uff - much criticism, but I did not start this whole “manifesto” thing, so don’t complain :) Hope it helps in one way or the other! Thanks again for starting this discussion!

  19. 19 Manuel Lima said at 2:30 pm on September 3rd, 2009:

    Please refer to my new post Observations on the Manifesto - - for further replies and considerations on the comments left here.

  20. 20 jerome cukier said at 4:57 pm on September 4th, 2009:

    About a year ago in a conference I heard a comment by Mikael Jern that said quite simply that there was two kind of visual tools, some that communicate conclusions, and some that enable analysis. I never really thought about that and to hear that was like a revelation.

    Where I work (OECD), we have to do both - communicate messages to our audiences, (”the power of narratives”) and enable our economists to test hypotheses (”interactivity is key”).

    But people responsible for an activity would oftentimes require a full-featured tool that will let people play for hours with data, when they really need a way to communicate evidence, simply, clearly and univoquially.

    Naturally, they would resent being forced to use tools they consider as inferior, because they are less sophisticated and don’t allow interactivity. But those tools are really more appropriate.

    You have static views that do rely on the tremendous cognitive powers of vision to communicate a lot of information with little effort on the viewer’s part. That’s what cartography is about. And such views could be less efficient if extra features were added, allowing the user to err. That’s why I’m wary of the necessity of interactivity.

    that being said, I understand why you’ve put that in your manifesto

  21. 21 Stephen Few said at 1:30 am on September 12th, 2009:


    In your manifesto you have confronted something that has concerned me a great deal and to a growing degree for the last few years. Information Visualization and Information Art do deserve to coexist and overlap in ways, but are quite different in purpose and consequently in many aspects of function and design. Thank you for thoughtfully and eloquently expressing this truth.

  22. 22 travc said at 11:46 am on September 19th, 2009:

    I hope you don\’t mind some observations from an outsider who views information visualization as a very useful tool (in the way statistics is \’just\’ a tool)… No belittling intended.

    Art is often thought of as appealing to the senses and emotions to reveal a \"larger truth\". That unfairly excludes illustration, but seems useful in this context. A key aspect is that art isn\’t \’about\’ the data or even the underlying process, it is about something beyond.

    Creating a conceptual separation between Information Art and Information Visualization seems quite appropriate… so long as we can agree on what \’visualization\’ means in this context.
    I propose \"revealing the structure of the processes which generated the data\". Yeah, I\’m a scientist.

    A further conceptual division may actually be helpful: Exploratory Visualization vs Presentation Visualization.
    These are very different goals, where Presentation is all about effectively communicating a given/known/hypothesized structure revealed by the data.
    Exportation is about finding and revealing unknown structure.
    Of course, exploration (most often at least) involves presenting information in a variety of different ways or different angles. However, the goals really are quite different.

    This somewhat undermines \"Start with a question\". Exploration starts with a meta-question and/or classes of questions.
    Presentation often starts with a question and the answer.

    I agree that aesthetics is not a goal of information visualization. It is a very useful and important means though. I think the manifesto gets this right. Though it words it in a way which is prone to spark excessive umbrage from those who make the understanding and effective application of aesthetics their cause (no doubt a very worthy cause).

    Finally, there is certainly a lot of crossover. Using red to illustrate the geographic spread of a disease (or war or whatever \’bad\’) is an artistic choice intended to convey elicit an emotional response. (Yes, it could be aesthetic or even purely functional… but you get my point!) That isn\’t intrinsically improper, though it very much needs to be conscious lest it leads to misunderstanding. Information visualization should be very careful about crossing over into emotional appeals… especially in an exploratory context. On the other hand, emotional appeal is a primary tool of Information Art.

    There is a lot of overlap between these categories, but IMO a project should have clear motivations rooted in only one.

  23. 23 Peter Crnokrak said at 12:08 pm on September 21st, 2009:

    many thanks for this thought-provoking manifesto manuel.

    i’d like to touch on a subject that is an undercurrent of all of this discussion, but as far as i can tell, not been explicitly addressed:

    WHY are so many people interested in the aesthetic qualities of data visualisation?

    this may seem like a pedestrian question – aesthetic appreciation is taken for granted in all walks of life – but why do we feel the need to create graphs that should only have a clear communicative function, look good? it would be enormously foolish to discount this phenomenon – its pervasive nature in design, art and even the applied sciences, dictates that it be addressed. so, what’s going on?

    here is my attempt at an answer. good looking – beautiful aesthetics – is likely an underlying function of communicative value – but one that runs so deep within our cognition that we don not have the vocabulary/understanding as of yet to objectively characterize. a well-trained, intuitively aware, designer knows how to engineer desire – that combination of visual elements that lead the viewer into a sequential experience of emotive graphic value. 99% of the time the purpose of this engineering is to sell a product. but nonetheless, an effective “purely aesthetic” experience is one that the majority of people can agree imparts some emotional value that draws their attention. millions of years of human social evolution has resulted in a state where communication involves a myriad of subtle and as of yet, impossible to explain, visual cues. because of this, “aesthetically pleasing”, likely communicates meaning.

    designers may not always be able to transcribe data in an accurate, statistically reliable manner, but they do know how to organize visual elements into a cohesive and experientially pleasing whole. experientially pleasing in this context is functional – being able to organize a visually complex assortment of graphical elements into a directed experience is pleasing as it draws in and leads the viewer from chaos to simplicity within a maze. experientially unpleasant is an experience where confusion reins – one where the viewer’s eye darts from element to element not knowing where to start or what step to take next.

    i think this is why designers are attracted to data visualisation – it is really the ultimate test of a designer’s ability to functionally organize a complex set of data using abstract graphic elements in a manner that conveys a communicative value. if this turns out to be the case, then even some of the trivial visualisations produced by designers may hold some inherent pedagogical value.

  24. 24 jonny goldstein said at 8:41 pm on September 22nd, 2009:

    Can I get a graphic interpretation of this post?

  25. 25 Joe Breman said at 8:20 pm on October 21st, 2009:

    Visualization is where the art of expression meets the science of analysis. It comes from the brain and the soul at the same time, and leaves with you a cognitive sentiment.

  26. 26 Konstantin Varik said at 10:32 am on June 2nd, 2010:

    Manuel, thank you for your manifest! It’s great!
    So (by the way) I translated it into russian and posted in my information visualization blog:
    May be it will be useful for somebody.

  27. 27 zecostapereira said at 11:32 pm on June 8th, 2010:

    Manuel Lima,
    acabei dever a tua entrevistana RTP2. Inveja!
    O disparate de ser considerado uma das 50 mentes mais criativas é afinal compreensível depois de te ver captar-me a atenção até ao fim da entrevista. Se a retroacção positiva leva à desagregação do sistema… estou feito!
    Um abraço pelo que gostei em ti. Algo me diz que o meu filho tem algo disto, como eu afinal
    zé costa pereira

  28. 28 Culturemobile said at 10:44 pm on June 16th, 2010:

    A very good example of datavizaulisation in live

  29. 29 Richard Hare said at 12:52 pm on August 9th, 2010:

    Dear Manuel

    Super to see such clear instructions. Obviously rather provocative too. To refer to ‘eye-candy and aesthetics’ as in anyway equivalent seems to miss the point of the discussion of aesthetics.

    All sensory inputs have an aesthetic dimension - in that they make us feel one way or another. Understanding this rhetorical dimension is fundamental to effective communication. It is obvious that we must be adept at using the tools of representation conscious of their potential to engender feelings in our readers. What you object to as an over emphasis on aesthetics is in fact the misuse of aesthetic means; something that happens all too often. However ignoring aesthetics and kidding ourselves that we are thereby being objective is simply perverse. There is no neutral option in representation only an aesthetically ignorant and/or lazy option.

    This sounds very dogmatic but I truly believe that aesthetics is far too easliy run away from by those who don’t take the time to understand even a little of its nature.

    All the best
    Richard Hare, landscape architect

  30. 30 Rajasthan Tour said at 4:27 am on November 14th, 2010:

    visualization is a language

  31. 31 Ayesha Saeed said at 7:24 am on June 10th, 2012:

    I agree to the most of the points, but in a world where everyone is so focused on asthetics of presentations…how can one avoid it. It takes so much times these days to format those charts that sometimes we loose the focus ……… and infogrpahics are turning out to be nothing but time-consuming long charts :o/

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