A friendly internal debate arose here at the Content Bureau blog some months back about the visual interpretation of information: I posted a paean to outlandishly creative graphic depictions of data, Ideas Without Words—or Pie Charts. Of course, I’m not really a designer—I’m a writer/editor—so a real designer, Masha, fired back with In Defense of Pie Charts in the Real World.
Now I’m upping the ante by calling in the biggest of big guns. One of our favorite clients is Autodesk, whose stock in trade is the visual interpretation of information (in so many ways it boggles the mind). Tom Wujek, an Autodesk information guru (his title is “Fellow” which implies that his activities require more breathing room than a job description) was recently featured in a New York Times article called Merely Human? That’s So Yesterday in which high-tech visionaries and futurists got together at the “Singularity” conference and jawboned about the merging of humans and machines and A.I. and other stuff that made me feel nervous and obsolete. Tom Wujek was depicted as the chronicler of the conference, master of the white board, and keeper of the multi-colored markers:
I see a lot of strenuous visual interpretation of information in this image: line graphs, curvy and jaggedy; bubble and bar graphs; cleverly ambiguous catch-all phrases like Web 2.0, Globalization, and The Long Tail; and—is that a pie chart at top center? I say no—it’s not a pie chart, it’s a clock, and it’s marking the dwindling hours till we wordy humans merge with brainy data-interpretive machines.