The Devil is in the Details

This week, I was asked to create less detailed work for a data illustration. Because the viewer, in the format we are working with, would probably not be able to notice the details.

And that made me.. A little a bit mad *Emma Stone Cruella’s style*.

In our field of data visualization and science, we have developed an obsession with simplifying complex subjects. We pull insights from 1,000-people surveys to represent 329.5 million of Americans’ opinions. We draw a simple line to talk about the deaths of millions of human beings. We show averages, aggregate, regression lines.

In our fast-paced world, we create, read, and throw away fast. Videos of 15-seconds teenagers dancing on the latest Top 10 song. Data visualizations produced at high-speed to convey facts as if they were carved in stone.

But facts have nuances. Outliers.

I think often about Paul. Paul was a 40-year-old-owner of a horse riding club. He was tall, with strong lean arms. His face was always a little too dark, burnt by the daily exposure to the sun. The contour of his mouth was chiseled with wrinkles caused by a lasting smoking habit. If you took away these details: the wrinkles, the sunburn, the well-defined muscles. Paul and his sharp humor could have been anyone, another doctor coming back, tanned, from vacations in Monaco. Only the details told the stories of hard years spent working outdoors with horses.

Our work implies simplifying for a better understanding. So much so that we sometimes erase subtleties and obstruct the truth.

Details complete the stories that we abbreviated to create our legible charts. Disaggregated categories. A photography. A texture. A color. An annotation on missing data. More.

Details are the glimpse into the building blocks of our stories. Details are a sincere statement: “here is what this graphic doesn’t have the space to say”.

Have a lovely Monday,


In case you missed it: this interview of Jer Thorpe, “But you still need to ‘go’ to those places, whether it’s physically to go there or to make the time to understand the thing you’re representing better than you already do”

Mental illness is neither necessary nor sufficient for creativity (2013, I know but worth diggin’ up from time to time)

Words from Esther Perel

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