Information Density

I went to an excellent workshop given by Edward Tufte on April 14th. The topic was the presentation of data. Although it was intended for people who are interested in giving public presentations of data to critical audiences it was still useful from my perspective. There are many parallels  between verbal and visual presentation of information. The logical understanding, categorizing and mental processing of it in our brains is likely similar.

Some of the visual graphics that Tufte showed as examples of highly effective information dense visualizations were, in my opinion, quite ugly. But Tufte’s point was that the aesthetic appearance is not the priority. It is the information contained within that is critical. I had to admit that the graphics he presented did convey a lot of information efficiently and well.  But as a visual artist I couldn’t help but wonder about the relationship of information density, communicability and aesthetics. For scientific illustrators this relationship is important to think about. For example, when communicating technical data for an audience of highly trained researchers who have a deep knowledge of the topic, aesthetic considerations can play a back seat to information. But consider information that is being presented to a general audience where it is important to have images that are interesting and hold viewers attention. Aesthetics in this case play a vital role!