Do you know that, according to Amazon, Tufte’s Envisioning Information is a best seller book in Design and Decorative Arts?

This man fights all his life against decoration and one of his best books ends up on the Decorative Arts category? Life (or Amazon) does have a twisted sense of humor.

Unless… Unless Amazon is plotting against data visualization. Many well-known data visualization books are cataloged under Graphic Design. That’s not ignorance, that’s conspiracy!

I’m not amused.

If you believe that data visualization is a branch of graphic design you are wrong. You can make prettier charts, but you are no better than those corporate users drooling over some canned 3D pie charts.

Data visualization is about data management, statistics and perception. Design is a nice, but optional, addition. It adds consistency, an emotional touch and grabs users attention but if it substantially improves insights that’s because something is wrong with the other components.

Graphic designers could be great data visualization experts (some are), but above all they love beauty, not data. Under graphic design, data visualization will become a useless bimbo.

Dear Amazon, please add a new Information Visualization category under Professional & Technical > Professional Science > Mathematics (or Professional Science > Data Science) . Do it now. Some books should be kept in the Decorative Arts. I’ll give you a list, free of charge.

OK, that was today’s pet peeve.

PS: I’ve never bought a data visualization book in a bookshop. Do you? Where do you find them? Graphic design, business or statistics (or decorative arts)?

[Update: This was supposed to be small rant, but it is attracting some harsh comments. Some are deserved (sloppy language) but others are clearly jumping to conclusions that are not in the post. I welcome your comments but please read my comments too. Here are a few points that I’d like to make clearer:

  • You cannot approach data visualization from a single perspective. If you are making a chart you are more than a graphic designer, you are more than a statistician.
  • Graphic design is not about decoration or prettification. But if you forget the data or make a data-inspired infographic that’s what you get.
  • “Design is a nice, but optional, addition.” OK, let me rewrite this: graphic design is always there, even if you use the chart defaults in Excel 2003. If you know something about perception probably you don’t need strong graphic design skills, specially if you work in corporate environment. They help, they and can improve your charts, but are not essential. If you want to make infographics, that’s a different story.
  • The primary parent category for “Information Visualization” should be “Data Science” not “Graphic Design”. If the books are under “Graphic Design” they should also be under “Perception”, “Statistics” etc.]