Beautiful Data

Given the constant stream of empirical data obtained by our five senses, human beings are awash in data. The key, of course, is to make sense of it all. By use of the imagination, we attend, filter, order, and conceive of countless perceptual signals, every moment of every day. 

The intellectual challenge, of course, is how to interpret that barrage of perceptual stimuli, translating it into a meaningful world of concepts, ideas, and hypotheses. Inasmuch as our interpretation closely approximates reality, it turns out to be quite useful in going about our daily lives—at home, at work, and simply for the fun of it. 

That’s why I’m increasingly drawn to those who can exercise their intelligence, creatively and persuasively, offering fresh and insightful ways of seeing the world: both with words and images. This week’s Malofiej Graphic Awards provide scores of examples of the creative ways in which information and data can be powerfully presented. From this New York Times’s printed display of the democratic protests in Hong Kong to Reuter’s visual depiction of the world’s consumption of plastic bottles (a stunning comparison to the Manhattan skyline!), these printed and digital graphics provide a creative display of magnitude and scope of each phenomenon being presented.  

All of this reminds me of Edward Tufte’s modern classic, Beautiful Evidence, an instructional touchstone in the composition of informational presentations, with the aesthetic imagination of DaVinci’s drawings or Michelangelo’s murals. 



In any case, the rhetorical tradition of liberal arts education encourages us to adopt any means available for the effective presentation of ideas—which strongly suggests, to my mind, that we should be actively cultivating the creativity of intelligent visual displays, alongside of precise and eloquent prose.  


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