A Visual Communications Debate

A relevant ongoing discussion in the Business Intelligence world is whether there is merit to the media style of Business Intelligence which has emerged in popular media and has been referred to as Infotainment, like the work of David McCandless.

McCandless became famous with his books, The Visual Miscellaneum, and Information is Beautiful, not to mention his MOMA installation, Talk to Me (I particularly liked his Hiearchy of Digital Distractions as I could relate to getting the laptop lid closed on my fingers now and again).

I am intrigued by this battle of the visuals. The discussion isn’t new but since TDWI Vancouver is about to host a data expert who will discuss visualizing data, it inspired me to revisit current leaders in the field of whom represent varying points on the spectrum.

Stephen Few  Is one of the first leaders in the field that I was introduced to, primarily because he is a regular presenter at The Data Warehouse Institute conferences and has written an insightful book called Show Me The Numbers that became a helpful guide book for many aspiring business intelligence analysts. 

Few wrote a criticism of McCandless work and later, Nathan Yau in FlowingData, blogged in response that “David’s work is a cross between news and entertainment. Business intelligence, which really is just statistics for business, is analysis. It’s not entertainment.” Yau also has a short video about the basics of corporate storytelling which appears to be made to entice you to buy his book but the main point is relevant: The skill of telling compelling evidence based corporate stories is a necessity today.

While business leaders may not be looking to be entertained, they are looking for clear concise communications to educate them quickly about the burning issues of the day. In a world of busy executives, we need to quickly grab attention with our corporate stories and be ready to supply successive layers of information as part of our package of evidence.

Edward Tufte wrote the book on Beautiful Evidence. Tufte is a respected statistician and political scientist who hosts courses and writes books on visual analytics. He’s famous for his criticism of the role of poor communication in Power Point as a leading cause in the Columbia Shuttle disaster. 

Tufte and his focus on the imperitve of beautiful evidence continued to become even more relevant with his appointment by the White House in 2010 to help visualize the US Recovery initiatives which you can read about here Recovery.gov A good example of how massive amounts of data can be analyzed and presented as evidence in a way that captures and retains the audience’s attention.

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