Graphic Literacy

John Udell laments the tendency for vendors, including Macromedia, Microsoft, and Apple to hype next-generation graphics capabilities with tasty eye candy that doesn’t help users create valuable visualizations, and doesn’t give users a compelling reason to use the technology.
Udell cites Tufte as the guru of graphic communication, suggests the need for easier-to-use new tools. But tools are only part of the answer. Nifty visualization tools have underperformed for about fifteen years that I’ve noticed.
It’s not enough to show pretty pictures — you need to have something to say. Tufte’s perennial complaint is “Chart Junk” — frivolous pictures that don’t say anything. Powerpoint and friends enabled people to make pointless pretty pictures long before the current generation of graphical infrastructure. People don’t know how to tell compelling and meaningful stories with visualizations.
A word processor doesn’t make eloquent prose on its own — and graphical tool tool won’t create meaningful visualizations.
In the social network analysis of Ziff Davis Media, we started with a story — teams of writers, editors, developers, and marketers collaborating across space and group boundaries — and questions about the intensity and frequency of collaboration.
Here’s the picture . And the story.

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