Data Visualization: Fun Design without Distortion

Although charts and tables have a reputation for providing the most accurate representations of data, I think data visualizations have a lot to offer. Tufte warns us of the many all-to-easy ways we can go wrong and commit graphical fraud, which seems to be an especially easy trap to fall into when using data visualizations. There is definitely a standard that needs to be met in order for me to feel trusting of a graphic, but that stands true for any table or chart as well. Take this graphic for instance:

 Image

I pulled this image from a website called visual.ly, which invites anyone to use their tools to create their own data visualizations. The website intrigued me because I thought it might show how people who may not be as well-versed in data representations as Tufte or Booth go about creating graphics, and to what extent they apply Tufte’s ideas of “graphical integrity.”

At first glance, this image struck me as amusing. After a little consideration, I thought it was creative more than anything else. I commend the author of this graphic for making his/her numerical and descriptive data about alcohol into a “science” by formatting it as the periodic table, presenting me the facts of the data in an interesting and fun way while still, for the most part, encouraging me to take it seriously. 

What strikes me most, however, is the ease at which the exact same information could be put into a table (what we might think of as a “normal” table, at least, being as it’s already in a periodic table). The data – including the percent of alcohol in each drink, the flavor, and year of creation – is not skewed, as far as I can tell, by the manner in which it is presented, which is exactly what Tufte warns against. I considered that “The Periodic Table of Alcohol” might be implying some sort of hierarchy within the drinks that isn’t meant to be there, but what I found was that there WAS a hierarchy that was implied and it WAS meant to be there. Just as the Periodic Table of Elements is arranged within different groups according to atomic mass (don’t blame me if I’m wrong – science isn’t my forte), so too is this parody of the Periodic Table arranged within groups (Vodka, Beer, Wine…) according to alcohol content. So, while a little basic knowledge of the Periodic Table of Elements is helpful in understanding the format of this table, it isn’t mandatory.

All in all, I think this particular data visualization is committing none of the sins written about by Tufte. If anything, it is using graphic design to organize information in an intriguing way that follows a pattern of arrangement that wouldn’t have the same effect in any regular table. It is all of the fun design, accurate data, and clarity without any of the distortion. 

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3 thoughts on “Data Visualization: Fun Design without Distortion

  1. What a good example of Data Visualization! Like you said, I think that the coolest part of converting data into a visual is the opportunity for the data to be represented in a unique way. And as demonstrated here, the data can even be presented in a way where the representation mirror the actual topic. And especially for this visualization, I think that such a relationship is really important. Typically, I wouldn’t think of something like drinks/mixology as a legit science. Although it is definitely a complicated field, it’s no biology or organic chemistry. But in presenting the data in a period table, a well known aspect of academic science, I think that drinking gains a heightening level of authority. In connecting drinking with legitimized science, the visualization makes me looking at drinking in a different way.

  2. This was a really cool chart. I don’t exactly know what purpose it serves, it seems more like a poster in a college dorm than anything, but it was nice to look at. I think that’s essentially the point of data visualization, who cares what it says just look at it. It’s interesting how you noted the idea of graphical integrity, when this was from a website that allows users to publish content to their liking. Just right now I can see a mistake– it says that margaritas taste like lemon, a scholar would certainly rip this apart. Everyone knows that margaritas are meant to taste like lime. But that’s not the point, again. You would never consult this picture to see when a a drink came about or what goes into a certain beverage. It’s just not highly factual data. It’s just something to look at, Tufte wouldn’t approve of this. There is zero graphical integrity, why would someone make a graph if it wasn’t perfect or educational? Probably because most graphs and tables are absolute eye sores and things like this are actually engaging and interesting.

  3. This infographic is interesting precisely because it takes the organization of the periodical table and uses some key aspects of it to classify alcoholic drinks. It is probably more than eye candy (tho’ it is that) but in what way? Maybe it feels trivial because the topic is trivial (at least to some people). However, I might argue that because this isn’t representing quantitative data but rather qualitative data, it does a reasonable job and can even provide insights into patterns among alcoholic beverages, which might ordinarily escape the reader of a drinks menu.

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