Why “Data Looks Better Naked”

Information is easily conveyed and understood when you implement elements of simplicity, especially in the marketing world. For example, if you take a look at how a brand’s identity has changed over time, once detailed aspects often become simplified. So too has simplification found its way into the data we often present to clients — from bulky, clogged charts to simplified, effortless data points.

Brand logos have historically evolved from being very detailed to incredibly minimal and simplified. For example, look at the brand history of PepsiCo. Do you see how much it has simplified since their logo from 1898?

Similarly, Mastercard recently redesigned their company logo to embody a more simplified image — which will debut this coming fall. Design changes with time, and the greater insight here is that you can make the connection that both Pepsi and Mastercard reflected the time in which they lived in — and you can say the same for the way data was displayed.

Let’s explore from a historical standpoint. This will allow us to better understand how what was once seen as “well designed” now looks “overly detailed”, and how the teachings of ‘why data looks better naked’ came about.

The knowledge behind why data looks better naked comes from the teachings of Edward Tufte, an artist and statistician. As a statistics professor at Yale University, Edward has written, designed and published four books dedicated to the knowledge of data visualization. In 1983, Tufte published his first book called, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information where it focused on the theories and practices behind designing data graphics (statistical graphs, charts and tables). It was in this book that Edward introduced the concept of “data-ink”. Data-ink is “the non-erasable core of the graphic, the non-redundant ink arranged in response to variation in the numbers represented”. He goes on to explain that we should “remove all non-data-ink and redundant data-ink, within reason.” In doing so, this will create a more cohesive graphical design when it comes to data visualization.

The below GIFs, created by designer Joey Cherdarchuk, illustrates the step by step process taken into “stripping away the excess” in order to make a graph visually “naked”.

Column Chart

Table Chart

Let’s follow the teachings of Edward Tufte with the support of Joey Cherdarchuk’s visuals when it comes to data representation. Though we are accustomed to the old style way of formulating data, let’s push forward in the direction of minimalism. To ensure that your data comes off as clear as possible, let’s strip down the data (rather than dress it up). This will make the data more “effective, attractive and impactive” when the method of “less is more” is put to use.

If you enjoyed this brief rendezvous, why not recommend it? And check out other articles myself and my colleagues have written around the ever changing media landscape on our Communications Planning Blog.