Magic Ink

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Bret Victor suggests we should view software as Magic Ink — not a machine, but a medium for visual communication:

The first step toward the information software revolution is widespread recognition of the need for design. It must be universally understood that information software is not a machine, but a medium for visual communication, and both publishers and public must hold it to the same standards that they hold print. People constantly settle for ugly, clunky software, but demand informative, professionally-designed books, newspapers, magazines, and—ironically—brochures, ads, and manuals for that very software. (As brochures have become websites, this duality has veered into absurdity: “Let’s design beautiful software to sell our ugly software!” The wrapper tastes better than the candy.)

I enjoyed this bit of visualization trivia:

Before 1786, authors invariably presented quantitative data as tables of numbers. In this year, an economist named William Playfair published a book called The Commercial and Political Atlas. Remarkable recent efforts have brought this classic back into print, as Playfair’s Commercial and Political Atlas and Statistical Breviary (2005). In order to illustrate his economic arguments, Playfair single-handedly invented the line graph, the bar graph, and the pie chart, and thereby the entire field of statistical graphics. Within years, his inventions had spread across Europe, transforming the landscape of visual communications and heralding an age of discoveries in data made visible. Today, children take these graphical forms for granted; they seem as obvious and fundamental as written language.

There is quite a bit to the article.

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