n Image & Text : a Journal for Design - Aesthetics versus functionality : challenging dichotomies in information visualisation




Information visualisation is an increasingly prominent practice focussed on making large amounts of data more accessible through visual media. Furthermore, an increased interest in the aesthetic value of visualisations is evident in the emergence of a sub-category of visualisation known as "information aesthetics", where visualisation is used in more artistic and experimental ways, with a strong focus on visual appeal. This aesthetic quality of certain information visualisations has attracted considerable debate and some traditional practitioners are concerned that "aesthetics" may detract from the functional or analytical goals of visualisation artifacts. This perceived divide between aesthetics and functionality may, however, result from two common misconceptions about "aesthetics" within design discourse. Firstly, "aesthetics" is often understood as an afterthought, or the superficial visual appeal considered after all other design decisions have been made. Secondly, "aesthetics" is often distrusted, with "decoration" seen as a sign of subjective interference with otherwise objective or neutral information transfer. This article explores various perspectives on the relationship between design aesthetics and functionality, proposing ways in which they may be more closely connected, specifically within an information visualisation context.


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