This debate has been around for a while (see e.g. Lev Manovich’s Info Aesthetics, The Manifesto debate, the Cargo Cult debate, Jorge Camoe’s attempts, but also helpful papers like “The Role of Design in Information Visualization“ etc) and of course, there is a literally a century of discourse on art and design in other fields as well.
Here’s my take:
Just a quick pointer to three interesting papers about the trends in and models of information visualization:
Andrea Lau and Andrew Vande Moere
This paper proposes a model of information aesthetics in the context of information visualization. It addresses the need to acknowledge a recently emerging number of visualization projects that combine information visualization techniques with principles of creative design. The proposed model contributes to a better understanding of information aesthetics as a potentially independent research field within visualization that specifically focuses on the experience of aesthetics, dataset interpretation and interaction. The proposed model is based on analysing existing visualization techniques by their interpretative intent and data mapping inspiration. It reveals information aesthetics as the conceptual link between information visualization and visualization art, and includes the fields of social and ambient visualization. This model is unique in its focus on aesthetics as the artistic influence on the technical implementation and intended purpose of a visualization technique, rather than subjective aesthetic judgments of the visualization outcome. This research provides a framework for understanding aesthetics in visualization, and allows for new design guidelines and reviewing criteria.
While I find the triangle model based on Data, Interaction and Aesthetics quite enlightening and useful, I am not so convinced of the data focus and mapping focus classification. Anyways a great paper.
Interesting points, especially the claim that we need to think about frameworks to criticize information visualization examples and techniques from different perspectives. The presented model, however, is quite simplistic, focussing on readability and recognizability, and based on that, a one–dimensional and —from my perspective—too shallow distinction of pragmatic vs. artistic approaches.
Fernanda B. Viégas and Martin Wattenberg
A nice overview of not strictly analytic approaches to information visualization.