Functional and beautiful

Functional enough to be meaningful, beautiful enough to be seen.

To me, this is the most important thing when creating a data visualisation, but too often I see or hear the relationship being described as if these two characteristics are polar opposites, as if a functional visualisation cannot be beautiful, something like this…


This just isn’t right. I understand that there are many many cases where this relationship would seem right, but I have seen just as many visualisations that are greatly informative and extremely beautiful (and unfortunately a few that are extremely ugly and not informative at all).

This continuum between functional and beautiful data visualisation doesn’t allow for this, instead something ‘perfect’ sits somewhere in between.

Surely we should strive for something that is both functional and beautiful, surely we can produce something meaningful that is also something people want to consume and share.

Surely the relationship should be seen as a matrix. A relationship where any manor of combinations between functional and beautiful can be achieved.

Surely the diagram should look something like this…



When designing a visualisation we should always strive to achieve something in the top right quadrant and ideally something in the very top right (although no visualisation is ever perfect).

Whilst aiming for the top right is of course ideal, it may not always be possible given constraints, in that case I would always aim for functionality over something beautiful. Remembering the purpose of data viz is to inform.

I finish by stating the obvious, NEVER aim to produce something in the bottom left! There are already to many ugly nonsensical visualisations in this world! These visualisations have a wider impact than you may think, they can turn people off from data viz.