Balancing Clarity and Creativity in Data Visualization

I’ve been reflecting on Elijah Meeks’ provocative essay, “3rd Wave Data Visualization”. In this post, I want to reflect on the tension between his first and third “waves.” I’ll refer to these as attitudes. (Meeks himself acknowledges that none of his “waves” have washed away. Each lives on.) He refers to them as Wave 1: Clarity and Wave 3: Convergence.

Upon re-reading his argument a few times, I believe we may useful understand the contrast Meeks highlights as the tension between these two imperatives:

Attitude 1: Design with Clarity. (Make sure we don’t miss the message.)

Attitude 2: Bring back the Creativity and Fun. (Give us some enjoyment.)

I’ll talk about these attitudes in more detail in a later post.

For now, I’m going to spend some time going out and evaluating a number of data visualizations bearing in mind questions such as these:

  1. How clear is this visualization? How easy is it to understand and interpret? Is that a good or a bad thing?
  2. How creative and fun is this visualization? Am I motivated to explore it further? Why or why not?
  3. Are there times, places, and audiences for whom clarity is more important than creativity? And vice versa?

The Tableau Public Gallery is a good place to start. And there are many others.

I’d be interested in your responses below. Include a link to a relevant data visualization.

I’ll report back with an update to this post.

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