What follows is adapted from a letter I wrote yesterday. It's a rant, and as I am not an expert on statistics nor a graphic designer, it's probably an uninformed rant.
The main purpose of graphs and charts is to convey information. They are often used to represent complex data sets, relationships between data, and non-obvious concepts in leiu of or in addition to verbal descriptions. When done right, a graph or chart makes something easier to understand.
Infoporn, a regular section of Wired Magazine, is a showcase for cutting edge graphs and charts. Most of the presentations in this section convey complex information effectively and efficiently. With one glance the reader can gain information and understanding that might otherwise take many pages of reading. At their best, the graphs represent the highest levels of graphic design. They are eyecandy with nutritional value.
The graphs entitled Killer Apps or Vaporware? on page 46 of the August 2002 issue of Wired have no nutritional value. (URL to be provided when issue is archived) They are more difficult to understand. Ideally, graphical representation is supposed to be either a more effective or more enlightening method of transmitting an idea (or both). These graphs do not communicate the ideas in the main explanatory paragraph effectively.
Following technologies through the hype curve
Hype is like pornography – you know it when you see it, and you see it everywhere. Gartner Inc. has been the mack daddy of tech buzz since it's analysts released their first hype cycle report in the mid 90's. Over the years, they've found that most technologies pass through the crucible of aggressive hype and disappointment before they're finally accepted. Or not. In 2001, the cycle's "trough of disillusionment" – the place where technologies go to be reevaluated or die – overflowed with dotcom offerings. Now there's plenty of breathing room as we wait to see whether Bluetooth and the Segway every make their way out. – Patrick Di Justo
It would be more effective to read a few simple sentences on each technology than to have to decipher this complex presentation.
There is no objective measurement of data, nor are there any sources to which the “data” refer. The only hard data on the graphs are the years. Did the creator of the graph use any sort of methodology to plot his data? Is this merely a graphical representation of his opinion?
One might argue that this is somehow a conceptual graph, but it certainly one would hope that the conceptual framework would be able to house the data it purports to contain. The set of graphs fails to do this. Key trends appear and disappear from the graphs without explanation. I suspect the reason for this is that they do not fit the conceptual framework. One example of this is the DVD trend which vanishes from the charts after nearly peaking in the 1997 chart. We all know what happened with DVD, but because it does not fit the conceptual framework or perhaps threatens to make the chart less pretty, this trend is dropped. Another example is VR that completely disappears after 1997. Is VR research no longer a trend, even if it’s not trendy? Is there no more serious work being done on it? The chart implies that it is dead tech. These two trends do not fit the conceptual framework, so they are just dropped.
While these graphs might be suitable for a student graphic art project, they are well below the high standards set by Wired’s usual infoporn offerings. All that they demonstrate is the inaccurate conceptual framework, and waste an entire page on what can be communicated with a few sentences.