Data Ink Maxxing

Book: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information


An interesting concept I came across in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information: data-ink maximization. Throughout his work, Edward Tufte rips apart data graphics from the real world and presents his own theory for the best methodology of creating displays of data. Tufte emphasizes the fact that many real world graphs, charts, and data displays often waste too much ink on material that has nothing to do with the important information that must be presented. Funnily enough, many of the examples of ‘bad’ displays that Tufte denigrates come from institutions such as the New York Times, the Washington Post,  and the New York Post; the corporate media are truly the enemy of the people, truth, and reason.

Nevertheless, it seems obvious to me that we are still plagued with trash displays of quantitative information and we ought to revive this concept of data ink maxxing. Any mark that is made in order to convey data must have meaning. I should note that this is all under the assumption that we want to present and convey complex quantitative information as effectively, clearly, and precisely as possible. Of course, many creators of data graphics start from no such assumption and try to fit the graphic to the conclusion they want to make with the numbers at hand. These actors don’t care about being precise and conveying the data as accurately as possible.

How can we data-ink-maxx in a world that now, for the most part, sees data graphics made on computers and many coming from a few prepackaged data graphics libraries. Any data analysis done using Python, for example, will use either Seaborne or Matplotlib, which offer some customization but not nearly approaching the customizability of hand drawn data graphics. Of course, these packages are great at saving time so data scientists/analysts don’t have to build it from scratch each time. Perhaps, a direction for a new data graphics library can provide a high degree of customization for the library user.