In the arrangement of a visualization, every single pixel should testify directly to content. As Jony Ive, the great Apple designer said, “We spend most of our time getting design out of the way.” It’s got to get out of the way because it’s about the relationship of the viewer and how they reason about the content. Style and aesthetics cannot rescue failed content. If the words aren’t truthful, the finest optically letter spaced typography won’t turn lies into truths. There are enormously beautiful visualizations, but it’s as a byproduct of the truth and goodness of the information.
This statement comes from Edward Tufte in a PBS video called “The Art of Data Visualization”. The video touches on the artistry involved with designing a visualization, but if there’s one thing that I think people should take from this video, it’s that visualizations need to be honest.
Visualizations add value by allowing the viewer to quickly understand a large data set in a meaningful way. This is incredibly powerful and because of that power, visualizations are often used to make decisions. However, it’s hard to make a good decision if you’re presented with distorted information. Unless you’re trying to mislead the viewer.