Escaping flatland is the essential task of envisioning information- for all the interesting worlds (physical, biological, imaginary, human) that we seek to understand are inevitably and happily multivariate in nature. Not flatlands.
Exactly the same design strategies are found, again and again, in the work of those faced with a flood of data and images, as they scramble to reveal, within the cramped limits of flatlands, their detailed and complex information. These design strategies are surprising widespread, albeit little appreciated, and occur quite independently of the content of the data.
All the history of information displays and statistical graphics is entirely a progress of methods for enhancing density, complexity, dimensionality, and even sometimes beauty. Some of these methods include micro/macro readings of detail and panorama, layering and separation of data, multiplying of images, color, and narratives of space and time.
Too many data presentation seek to to attract and divert attention by means of display apparatus and ornaments. Chartjunk.
"The interior decoration of graphics generates a lot of ink that does not tell the viewer anything new. The purpose of decoration varies – to make the graphic appear more scientific and precise, to enliven the display, to give the designer an opportunity to exercise artistic skills. Regardless of its cause, it is all non-data-ink or redundant data-ink, and it is often chartjunk."
To clarify, add detail: details lead to personal micro-readings, individual stories about the data. Details cumulate into larger coherent structures. Simplicity of readings come from the context of detailed and complex information, proper arranged.
Panorama, vista, and prospect deliver to viewers the freedom of choice that derives from an overview, a capacity to compare and sort through detail. These visual experiences are rooted in human information processing capabilities.
Micro/macro designs can report immense detail, organizing complexity through multiple hierarchical layers of contextual readings.
Technique of layering and separation: visually stratifying various aspects of the data.
But layering is difficult, because the various elements collected together interact, creating non-information patterns and texture simply through their combined presence.
1+1=3: when two elements show themselves along with assorted
incidental by-products of their partnership.
The noise of 1=1=3 is directly proportional to the contrast in value (light/dark) between foreground and background.
Layering and separation can be achieved by proper use of colors, shades, separate annotations.
Small Multiple Designs answer the question at the heart of
quantitative reasoning "Compared to What?"
They answer directly by visually enforcing comparison of changes, of the differences among objects, of the scopes of alternatives.
Human eye is able to distinguish among 1,000,000 colors.
For encoding abstract information, more than 20 or 30 colors produce negative results.
Fundamental uses of colors in information design:
With colors also is easy to get the 1+1=3 effect.
What palette of colors to use? A grand strategy is to use colors found in nature, especially those on the lighter side, such as blue, yellows and grays of sky and shadow.
Color is a natural quantifier.
Colors are sensitive to interactive contextual effects.