Data Visualization: Statistical Graphics or Data Art?

Visualization & Interface, Murray Hill (NY Hilton)
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Data visualization means different things to different people. Some say that to be effective, visualizations need to be clear, concise and accurate. Others say that to be effective, visualizations need to be eye-catching, engaging, and innovative. Naomi Robbins will moderate a panel composed of Jon Peltier, an expert on graphics in Microsoft Excel, and Nigel Homes, an award-winning graphics artist and author of several books on information design.

Possible questions include:

  • How would you define effective data visualizations?
  • Would your definition be the same for figures designed for business decisions and those designed for the media (e.g., newspapers and magazines?)
  • What do you think the consumers of data visualizations are looking for?
  • In what settings are you trying to educate, entertain, provoke, inform, etc?
  • I think it’s unfortunate that the same terminology is used for both. Do you think a change in terminology could reduce the tension between the groups?

Nigel Holmes

Explanation Graphics

Born in England, Nigel Holmes studied illustration at the Royal College of Art in London and then freelanced for magazines and newspapers for 12 years in London before coming to New York in 1978 to work for Time Magazine. He became graphics director and stayed there for 16 years.

At Time, his pictorial explanations of complex subjects gained him many imitators and a few academic enemies who thought he was trivializing information. But he remains committed to the power of pictures and humor to help readers understand otherwise abstract numbers and difficult scientific concepts.

Since 1994 he has run his own business, Explanation Graphics, explaining all sorts of things for a variety of clients. These have included American Express, The Smithsonian Institution and United Healthcare. He also does graphics and illustrations for publications such as The Atlantic, Harper’s, National Geographic and the New York Times.

In 2009, the Society for News Design gave him their Lifetime Achievement Award, and a retrospective exhibition of his work was shown at Stevenson University, Baltimore in 2011.

He has written seven books on aspects of information design, including most recently,Wordless Diagrams, and, with Steven Heller, Nigel Holmes on Information Design. His first book for children, Pinhole and the Expedition to the Jungle, was a finalist in the 2011 Next Generation Indie Awards. (That means it didn’t win, but there were only four finalists!) An enhanced version is now available for the iPad at Apple’s iBooks. With his son Rowland, Holmes makes short animated films. Clients have included the TED conference, Fortune Magazine conferences, Good Magazine and the National Geographic Society.

Photo of Jon Peltier

Jon Peltier

Peltier Technical Services

Jon Peltier is owner of Peltier Technical Services, Inc. He has been a full time Excel developer since 2004, when he founded Peltier Tech, and part-time since about 1995. Peltier Tech provides data and graphic solutions for users of Microsoft Excel, combining Excel’s worksheet functionality and charting capabilities with its powerful VBA programming environment to produce solutions in engineering, finance, and marketing. Peltier Tech has developed a line of Excel add-ins which extend Excel’s graphical capabilities. The Peltier Tech website is an encyclopedia of Excel charting and programming techniques.

Jon is a metallurgist by training, with a Doctor of Science degree from MIT. Prior to creating Peltier Tech, Jon spent over 20 years in research and development, and more recently in manufacturing and production support, in the aerospace, automotive, and industrial parts industries.

Photo of Naomi Robbins

Naomi Robbins


Naomi B. Robbins is the author of Creating More Effective Graphs. She is a consultant, keynote speaker, and seminar leader who specializes in the graphical display of data. She trains employees of corporations and organizations on the effective presentation of data with customized programs. She also reviews documents and presentations for clients, suggesting improvements or alternative presentations as appropriate. Naomi received her Ph.D. in mathematical statistics from Columbia University, M.A. from Cornell University, and A.B. from Bryn Mawr College. She had a long career at Bell Laboratories before forming NBR, her consulting practice.

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Picture of Naomi Robbins
Naomi Robbins
10/10/2012 5:29am EDT

Both Jon Peltier and Nigel Holmes have offered to address your questions. Please post questions here or ask them at the session.


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