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Excellent Primer on Information Presentation,
This review is from: The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics: The Dos and Don'ts of Presenting Data, Facts, and Figures (Hardcover)As anyone who has spent a substantial time floating through the vast oceans of the Internet seeking out some treasure knows, being able to tell the treasure within the detritus is a powerful skill. Frequently, an even more powerful, and necessary is being able to present that treasure to someone else such that they also see the value. Today I'll be sharing Dona' Wong's book "The Wall Street Journal Guide To information Graphics", which seeks to provide a resource to those who grapple with presenting informational treasure troves.
Before proceeding too far, let me say that figuring out novel ways to present information is a personal passion of mine, so I was thrilled to receive a review copy of this book. The great challenge in communicating informationally dense content is to arrive at a presentation format that transparently delivers the informational content in a powerful manner. While doing this, it is of the utmost importance to maintain the integrity of the data. If you have just a few data points a simple table might be sufficient, more commonly the data needs to be converted into some visual format so the message is not obscured by reams of numbers and the dread data blindness.
I found Wong's book to be an effective primer on information graphics. It has a strong bent towards their application to the financial industry, but the principles she espouses apply equally well to any other discipline where quantitative meaning is communicated. A passerby might be put off by the slimness of the volume but ought not be because this slender tome is an informationally rich, clear book full of insightful examples.
The book dashes through a wide array of content. In the first section, she covers basic concepts of charting, font selection, and proper application of color. This is followed up by an in-depth look at basic charts. Next, she dives into the fundamental mathematics that anyone presenting a chart should understand. She then proceeds cover some of the more ambiguous issues you might encounter. For instance how much data can be missing before a data set is unusable? How do you appropriately scale large numbers containing a small relative change? Finally, she rounds things out with an area not often covered by information graphicists which is on charting progress and resources.
While, this book is extremely light on the word-text, it does not shy away from graphic-text. Wong chooses to primarily discourse through visual example. The bulk of the book is structured as "don't do X" instead "do y." Each example is illustrated using a chart/counter-chart format. In nearly every example I recall, I found this to be an effective technique for illustrating the flaws to avoid or the methods she advocates.
My only criticism is that I found Chapter 4, on tricky situations, to be a bit of a rehash of topics she had previously covered. Three out of the four subjects, addressed in this section, are covered, in essence if not explicitly, in other sections of the book. Although she goes into more detail in this section, I would have preferred to have these topics integrated into the previous chapters. That said, although there is some ground being retread the issues she is covering in this chapter are persistent problems throughout the information graphic universe so perhaps some repetition is warranted.
In all, I would strongly encourage any one who is embarking out to the sea of ideas, or has already spent some time floating with little direction to pick up "The Wall Street Journal Guide To information Graphics." After finishing the book, the newly skilled presenter will be better prepared when next they bring home that hard won find, and wish to show others their newly acquired treasure.