A book on how to make simple infographics about boring things 200 pages, ★★
The Power of Infographics is a comprehensive guide on how to turn drab topics like sales and organisation charts into unintentional office comedy. None of this book was intended to be funny—no, it was intended to be useful, but I find the charts in this book are so pointless that they belong with doodles and LOLcats, not in an ‘art’ book.
Here’s one of those pointless charts.
This book is written for people with no time to read. All the usual nuances of a corporate book are in here, including short chapters, bullet-lists, repetitive catchphrases (memes) and boring case-studies about how people increased their sales blah blah blah.
Some of the graphics are quite good, which is my rationale for giving it two stars. But the whole book is full of graphics on corporate networking, sales figures, and social media statistics. So very, very dull. Read Information is Beautiful instead. ★★
They’re radically different. Tufte advocates simple data visualisations with a maximum data-to-ink ratio. Holmes likes to add visual elements, pictures and illustrations onto charts, which Tufte calls “chartjunk”. You’ll have noticed the striking difference between these two competing schools when you upgraded your iPhone from the Holmes-inspired, skeuomorphic iOS 6 to the Tufte-inspired, clear and minimalist iOS 7.
Clearly, the Tufte-inspired version on the right looks much better.
Here is a simple introduction to minimalist Tufte design:
I’m on the side of Tufte here. I like complicated data visualised in a simple-looking graphic. Looking back at the graphics I made last summer, I decided to update the Mineral Water Composition chart I made last year according to Tufte’s design philosophy.
Here’s the new, Tufte-inspired version:
And here’s the old Holmes-inspired version I made a year ago:
Here are the last of the Visual Ingredients posters I’m planning to make. Here’s Chanel No. 5 and a cheap (but also popular) deodorant as well just for the comparison’s sake. Enjoy!
More book reviews coming soon. At the beginning of the year, I set a goal of reading and reviewing 104 books in 2013… I’ve read 87 so far, and the reviews are either uploaded or queued. That leaves me with 17 books and 13 days in which to read them!
Giant trilingual compilation tome of graphics by various international artists.
5.0 kilograms, ★★★★
I’m a visual learner and a huge fan of data visualisation. I’m not very good at visualising data by myself (my own efforts are posted here), but I do appreciate the beauty and apparent simplicity of other people’s finished results. The surge in data visualisations we’ve seen in recent years is owed to two things: an overwhelming amount of data made available by the internet; and vast amounts of computing power available to analyse this data in great depth. We can now analyse entire genomes, millions of ‘tweets’, or entire books and their full revision histories relatively quickly to make meaningful conclusions.
All data visualisations can be judged by their beauty, utility and complexity. Very few of the examples in this book hit all three of those targets. The cover image, for example, is beautiful and complicated but useless. The “Earth history” timeline on page 257 is beautiful and useful but too simple. The “So You Need a Typeface” graphic (below) is useful and complex, but its scrambled layout makes it look bland and difficult to read.
That said, this is an art book, and I’m not supposed to ‘like’ everything in it. Considering that art’s purpose is to make people think, then this book succeeds spectacularly. It’s multi-lingual (written in English, French, German, Russian and others—and no particular language dominates the book), so I’m left guessing most of its content. I wasn’t even sure how to read this book: the book itself is too large to open up on my desk, doesn’t fit in my bag, doesn’t fit in one hand, is too cumbersome to take outside and would be exhausting to read in bed. Closed, it’s the size of a pillow! Its intended audience probably reads it on giant artists’ drawing tables—I had to read it on the floor.
I didn’t learn much content from this book. There’s no story, no chapters or sections and the whole book lacks organisation. Many of the fonts are illegibly small, and most of the captions are uninformative (or in foreign languages), which implies that I’m actually not supposed to learn anything—just appreciate the pretty aesthetics.
What I did learn, however, was that I had a particular taste in data visualisations—I like them useful, beautiful and complicated. Thankfully, this book’s massive size meant that there were still dozens of graphics (in 500 pages) that I actually really liked. Recommended for fans of graphic design.★★★★
I didn’t enjoy reading this book. It’s nice to look at, though.
Color Management‘s strength is that it’s beautifully-produced. It’s a fine example of how to make a stunning design portfolio with near-perfect color palettes and suitable font choices for your audience. It describes the process of creating color palettes, and the science of choosing fonts, but the English isn’t good enough to educate me—it merely looks good on the page.
The font is small and printed on a colored background. The page layout is confusing. Whole paragraphs are unnecessary. Some facts are repeated, and others are wrong. (On page 177, it tells us that 32-bit color allows for 16.8 million colors on your palette—in fact, it allows for 4.3 billion. Even I know that.)
The science of design is useful for road signs, billboards, packaging, pamphlets—things I’m not going to spend more than a few seconds looking at; but “design overkill” in this book is distracting. Anything that’s going to be looked at for hours needs to have good content, not just a good first impression. The over-emphasis on first impressions makes my eyes wonder aimlessly around each page. Where should I start reading now? There’s too much colourful text, and the top two thirds and the bottom third of each page contain separate content.
Reading Color Management is rather like simultaneously reading a two-tier news ticker on TV (while also paying attention to the pictures on the rest of the screen). If that were possible, it still wouldn’t be fun.
I’d prefer my graphic design textbook to be mostly plain text, followed by illustrations and examples that fill whole pages. Please don’t make the whole book look like a series of advertisements. They’ve squeezed theory into an example-shaped mould, and failed to educate.
Put this book on a corporate guest table. Then when you’ve arrived early for your all-important appointment, browse through this mindless eye-candy before going in. In those situations, nobody really reads the text anyway. It looks good, though. ★★