I thought that the chapter about the beauty paradox was interesting and educational. It never occurred to me that overly developed aesthetics could be distracting from the data.
It can be a challenge to the designer to find that right balance between presenting complex data while at the same time showing it in an an aesthetically pleasing way.
Cairo has created a visualization wheel which shows “more complex and deeper” on the top half and “more intelligible and shallower” on the bottom half. Artwork tends to be more abstract when the data is complex and deep, but more figurative when the data presented is simple.
In a way, making really figurative diagrams is sort of analogous to creating illustrations for children’s books. You don’t want to overestimate your audience’s intelligence, and when you create a really figurative, decorative, redundant, information light diagram, it’s kind of like you’re expecting your audience to be stupid. But when you design a really abstract, information dense, original diagram, it’s like you’re expecting your audience to be more educated. As a designer, you have to understand who your audience is and how educated they are so that you can find that balance between art and data.
Stephen Few says that a data visualization should only be beautiful when it is useful for promoting understanding. You can decorate a graphic all you want, but if the graphic doesn’t have good information, it won’t be a good graphic. Too much decoration can take up too much real estate which may be better served for communicating information. The result can be a shallow graphic.
Here is an interview with Alberto Cairo where he talks about the visualization wheel:
Here is a neat slideshow about Infographic Presentation: