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If, like me, you are an Edward Tufte fan, and like nothing more than to see graceful and meaningful illustrations of data, you’ll love Information is Beautiful. Hard to know where to start with the recommendations, but the  Scientific Evidence for Popular Health Supplements bubblegram is one of my favourites – make sure you try out the filter on the right of the page.  Number three of the Four Infographical Morsels uses Google autocomplete to find out the most popular completion phrases for “How do I get my girlfriend/boyfriend to…” Another favourite is the pictorgram of the distribution of major/minor keys in Beatles songs.sd

There’s a dark side to my love of beautifully displayed information: it’s a necessary antidote to the crud that people churn out when they are mistakenly given a computer to do a job which would be better done without one, unless you happen to be a genius at displaying information visually.  It was Donald Norman in The Design of Everyday Things that pointed out the problem of ‘affordances’ – printers, for example, print things, so give a person a printer, and they’ll start printing things out, whether that’s strictly necessary or not.  I’d add to that, give them Microsoft Office and they’ll start turning everything into a table, a spreadsheet or a document, even if what you need to know would be better communicated with a smile and a touch on the arm.  People attach documents to emails because they can, not because it helps.

Please, everyone,  buy Tufte’s books and look at Information is Beautiful just to get a sense of what meaningful data looks like.

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist