Discussion: Defining your data visualisation style
Last week I was pondering the issue of data visualisation style, a quite ambiguous and hard-to-put-your-finger-on idea that can be interpreted differently depending on your perspective. To me, today, its a combination of tone-of-voice, communication technique and visual identity but tomorrow, if you asked me I might change that definition. So its a hard thing to nail down but I like to discuss things like that.
If we take an example, most of you out there would probably be able to instantly recognise a David McCandless piece or a New York Times graphic because there is an inherent visual quality or technique that leaves a certain stylistic footprint. If someone was influenced by these design styles, others would probably note ‘hey, that’s like a David McCandless work’, just by way of example.
In other fields of art and design we have endless examples of prominent visual styles, instantly recognisable brands. There are too many for me to list and you’ll already know them yourself simply as a consumer, but just two examples would be Apple and somebody like Van Gogh. Instantly recognisable visual styles.
I was thinking about this issue specifically in relation to questioning what (if any) I would consider to be my own style right now and what would I want it to be if I sought to develop and define one. I’d probably characterise my design work as being more on the analytical/precision side of the spectrum, but is that where I want to keep it? Should I be completely flexible with my style and try to expand my techniques to offer a range of different approaches based on a broad portfolio? Or, do I want to define my own style, identify what I believe to be a core strength, focus on that particular skill and (as I said in conversation with Scott Murray) determine that I will be THAT guy and be the best at THAT thing and people will recognise me for THAT style.
Of course, one of the main factors in deciding this will be your personal situation in terms of whether you can afford to narrow your style, and by implication pick and choose work – it is very fortunate if you can and I’m not claiming to be in that position yet!
To take this forward I decided to pose the question on Twitter:
When it comes to design style, is it more valuable to be considered a flexible/all-rounder or try define your own style and develop a brand?
— Andy Kirk (@visualisingdata) August 16, 2012
Just to clarify, the term ‘recognition’ was meant in terms of being recognisable as one of your pieces rather than recognition in the sense of awards/rewards.
I knew there wouldn’t be a universally agreed stance. Its not a single issue decision, I quickly got a wide range of fascinating responses reflecting the difference in interpretation of what ‘style’ means to different people as well as the contrasting perspectives on what is deemed best. I soon realised this discussion needed to be elevated from the short working memory of Twitter and committed to a blog post.
Here are just a selection of the conversations that started, I would be really interested in furthering this debate so please feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments box below: