Isn’t the beauty of beauty that we all find different things beautiful?
The other day Stephen Few posted a blog post named “Data Is Not Beautiful”. I have strong reasons to believe this was written because we at /r/dataisbeautiful contacted him and wondered if he was interested in doing an AMA, Ask Me Anything, where our users could ask question and he could provide his point of view and thoughts about data visualizations. Now, I have great respect for Stephen Few and I often send people interested in data visualization his way to read his material because he is so black and white and therefore it is easy to grasp what he think good data visualization is. In this blog post however, I think he misses the mark.
My beautiful might not be your beautiful
I have never been a fan of discussions regarding what is beautiful. What is beautiful is completely up to the consumer of some material, which can be music, art, nature or even data. Everyone has different taste and I never feel like these kind of discussion solves anything or contributes to making a disucssion go forward in any sort. The goal often seems to simply try and put themselves above others by claiming that they are not entitled to call anything beautiful. However, isn’t the beauty of beauty that we all find different things beautiful?
Data can indeed be beautiful
There are many things that can be beautiful about data and even though I am understanding Few’s point that this means that it is the attributes about data that is beautiful and not the data itself I find that to be a weird formulation. What about music is beautiful? It’s the combination of attributes, the compositon, volume, chords, etc. All of which is attributes of a music piece, which indeed can be beautiful.
Attributes of data can be things like structure, format, how it is organized and beyond that we can find a story to be beautiful. However, even without the story the data itself can be in what I’d call a beautiful state. It is not often I go to a customer and find beautiful data, but when I do it is a beauitufl sight indeed! Data that is well organized, formated and of good quality. I have no problem of using the word beautiful to describe this phenomenon.
I believe that data can indeed be beautiful, but in the end even if the data is beautiful it has little to no value if all it does is lie hidden within a database or an Excel sheet. Therefore it is our job to take that data and turn it into something useful for example through good visualizations. And when it comes to this I believe this older blog post from Few, “Should Data Visualizations Be Beautiful” is a lot more interesting than his recent post.
On a last note: As the moderator that reached out to Stephen Few and asked if he was interested in doing and AMA I still think it is a shame he declined. I personally find his point of view very interesting and I am sure a lot of users on /r/dataisbeautiful would have thought so too. There is something refreshing about a person speaking so loud about what he believe is right so if he at any time changes his mind we would be very happy to have him do an AMA at /r/dataisbeautiful.