Customer Reviews: The Functional Art: An introduction to information graphics and visualization (Voices That Matter)
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on October 4, 2012
I really wanted to like this book. The author appears to be deeply thoughtful, observant, well-read and experienced. The book is attractively designed with many color examples of infographics and other visual displays.

But the ideas are incomplete. For instance, the author goes to great pains in chapter 3 to construct a "visualization wheel" - an analytical framework for categorizing your infographic. More functional or decorative? More literal or abstract? Etc. I was getting excited! But the author just kinds of leaves it at that. It's rarely referenced again in the book and turns out not to be a very useful planning tool at all. So why did we spend an entire chapter on this?

Similarly, chapters 5-7 go deep into understanding how vision works: eye saccades, the blind spot, guessing what the picture is without full information, etc. Interesting stuff, but again, it doesn't lead to any great insights. Nothing that couldn't have been expressed without the optometry lesson.

Still, there are some useful ideas in here. Gestalt principles are important. The quick review of Bill Cleveland's research on more accurate graphing techniques. When to use detailed versus abstract imagery. All good ideas.

But there just weren't enough of them. And too many chapters that went deep into some topic but didn't bring back any good insights.

So, 3 stars for some good ideas. But this book should have been a lot better.
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on September 9, 2012
In The Functional Art, Alberto Cairo has written one of the most comprehensive books on information design that I have ever seen. He starts by laying a foundation that makes the case for information graphics and visualization as a "functional art" -- that function being helping us humans make sense of the world and make more thoughtful, rational decisions. He makes the case for not only clear, minimal representations of data but also recognizes the roles that emotion, fun, perception and cognition play in our understanding of visual phenomena.

There's a fair amount of brain science in this book -- just the right amount, in my opinion, for anyone wanting to visually explore and express information and ideas. But Cairo follows the brain science with excellent practical knowledge and wisdom from the discipline of information design. With plenty of examples, case studies and interviews with expert practitioners, he manages to cover quite a lot of ground, from newspapers to magazines to academia and more. He also tackles the emerging and important area of interactive explanation, covering topics like how we perceive motion, the role of feedback and more.

Full-color illustrations throughout are to be expected in a book of this kind, and there is an ample supply of them. But in addition, the book comes with a DVD-based video course.

All in all this is an excellent overview of a topic that will only become more relevant and important in the coming years.
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on January 11, 2013
I've always enjoyed the visualizations, static and interactive, done by the New York Times. They generally contain a balance of simplicity and depth. Simplicity in presentation and organization while providing enough depth for exploration.

What I didn't fully appreciate was how much visual journalism (journalism in which the story takes a graphical form) parallels some aspects of a data scientist role. It wasn't until I picked up `Functional Art' by Alberto Cairo that I understood that visual journalists faced similar challenges in identifying the overarching story, organizing the structure, and designing visual communications to a general audience.

The book explores the theory and process of visual journalism based on Cairo's experiences working at Spanish newspaper El Mundo and teaching at the School of Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Three of my favorite ideas/sections:

1. The `Visualization Wheel', a model of Cairo's that serves as a reference point when developing a visualization. There are two main halves to the wheel - the top part representing increased complexity and depth and the bottom part representing simplicity and lightness. The key takeaway is to provide balance to a visualization with the audience in mind. Certain audiences are likely to gravitate towards one than the other.

2. Discussion of engineers versus designers in their approach to graphical forms. On one extreme is Edward Tufte, who espouses a minimalistic approach to visualization. On the other extreme is graphic designer Nigel Holmes, who takes a more emotional, mimetic approach to graphic design. Cairo argues that there are benefits to both approaches.

3. A concise explanation of how the visual brain works. There are more detailed works on the matter (see Colin Ware) but this is one of the clearest explanations I've seen so far.

Overall, a great addition to the data visualization world. It serves as a great primer on visual communication for any budding data scientist.
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on January 2, 2013
This book written by someone from the news magazine corner throws a new light on data visualizations and as such is a should (almost: must read) for everyone dealing with Dashboard Design or data visualizations. The books offers many examples from the real world, but: sadly the book format is definately too small for many of the infographics. A standard paperback size (closer to American Letter size or European Din A4 size would have served better). Sadly, some of the infographics are labeled in Spanish or Portugese, which is not suprrising knowing Alberto's background (Spain/Brasil). Still, it would have been nice if all infographics had been translated in English.
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on March 11, 2013
I was able to finish this book in one weekend. The writing is engaging, the content is clear, and the writer clearly knows his field well. I loved all the graphics and interviews with field experts.
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on September 27, 2012
In The Functional Art, Alberto Cairo has written a real standout in the new wave of books about data visualization. His book weaves visualization theory and techniques with real applications and critiques about existing visualization projects. One of the reasons why I think Cairo's book succeeds is that he has background as both a journalist--specifically, data journalism--and as an academic (at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the University of Miami).

In the first part of the book, Cairo explains what I take away as three main tenets of good data visualization practice: first, good graphic techniques and strategies (minimal use of pie charts, reducing non-data ink, etc.); second, how to create eye-pleasing graphics (how to choose color, fonts, layout, etc.); and, most importantly, how to use data visualization to tell a story. I think this is where The Functional Art really stands out as a great reference--Cairo shows you how to use data visualization not as a way to just show your data or to create a tool for people to explore your data, but as a way to be a storyteller with data.

The second part of the book is more about the eye-brain connection--how we as humans perceive different shapes, colors, etc. Cairo isn't a cognitive scientist, but he's done a great job pulling from the literature and summarizing the issues and, importantly, how to use that knowledge to create better graphics.

These two first parts of the book will be helpful for anyone who has ever created visualizations before or who are just starting out. The graphics used in the book are all excellent and should inspire you to try to similarly create great visualizations.

Finally, in the last part of the book, Cairo profiles 10 prominent data visualization experts and creators. For me, this section wasn't as exciting as the first two parts, but there are definitely nuggets of wisdom from some of the interviews and is something that you really can't find in a single source anywhere else.

Also, just a final note about the DVDs that are included with the book. The DVDs are basically a summary of each of the chapters, but the last two are especially interesting. In lecture 10 (Gay Rights), Cairo discusses a graphic produced by The Guardian magazine and why this particular use of a circle graphic works. Since there is a continuous debate about circles in the data visualization field--see also Chapter 2 in the book--this is a nice video on why circles can work in certain circumstances. In lecture 11 (Obesity and education), Cairo shows how he creates some basic graphics in Adobe Illustrator, which is great if you're not too familiar with that software (though I would never have the patience to make a map in Ai!).
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on January 29, 2013
A great read for anyone working in media, advertising or business. It gives a good overview of how to present data to answer the underlying questions, and give the reader the tools to dig deeper. No need to spend $999 on Barbra minto when this gives you as good tools for developing a powerful presentation.

The interviews in the last part gives a wider perspective across leading newsrooms and into the digital realm.

DVD makes for a lecture in your home. Alberto is engaging, and it serves a good second take on the material.
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Cairo does an excellent job of explaining how to use infographics and visualizations effectively. Especially powerful are his numerous examples which are beautifully reproduced. He also includes several international examples demonstrating how infographics are truly a global trend. Of the many books out there on this topic, I found Functional Art to provide the best overview.
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on February 5, 2014
I liked the way the content is presented. Alberto reviews multiple aspects related to visualizations, from perception to design. The only thing I didn't like was that the profiles section was a little long. Also, I would have expected a "where to go form here" section at the end. Anyways, I think I would recommend this book to anybody interested in learning more about visualizations and infographics.
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on October 23, 2012
For anybody starting out in the field of information graphics and visualisations, or for any journalists who work with designers - this is a must read.

The book is clearly laid out and very easy to read and understand. Its one of those books that you can delve into when you have 10 minutes to spare.

Alberto Cairo takes you through what makes a successful graphic, backing up his arguments with clear examples, both of his own work as well as others. He also goes into the cognitive aspects, but not in too scientific a way as to put anybody off.

The final part of the book is taken up with interviews conducted by Cairo with 10 designers at the top of their particular fields in information graphics and data visualisations. Full of interesting, colourful examples and a great resource.

I found it to be an excellent overview, a great resource, easily read and full of inspiration, even for someone like me who has been producing graphics for over 30 years. One to keep by your desk. Highly recommended
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