Chart Junk Beneficial?

Snap decision: Which chart is better?

Snap decision: Which chart is better?

The chart on the right is traditionally thought of as better: clearer, less distracting, more honest and true to the data. However, recent research suggests the chart on the left better communicates the topic, the categories and values, and the overall trend of the data—and is more easily recalled:

Guidelines for designing information charts often state that the presentation should reduce chart junk – visual embellishments that are not essential to understanding the data. In contrast, some popular chart designers wrap the presented data in detailed and elaborate imagery, raising the questions of whether this imagery is really as detrimental to understanding as has been proposed, and whether the visual embellishment may have other benefits. To investigate these issues, we conducted an experiment that compared embellished charts with plain ones, and measured both interpretation accuracy and long-term recall. We found that people’s accuracy in describing the embellished charts was no worse than for plain charts, and that their recall after a two-to-three-week gap was significantly better.

Junk chart vs Minimalist chart

This research challenges popular assumptions among data visualization purists. But it also presents opportunities for us. Technical illustration is all about synthesizing information, facts, data with imagery to give context. This research is evidence that this synthesis is more effective, more appealing and more memorable than data alone.

Radiation Infographic by Davvi from our Flickr Pool

Radiation Infographic by Davvi from our Flickr Pool

Full report: Useful Junk? [via Information Aesthetics, Eager Eyes]

Information and Decision Making

A recent research paper on organizational behavior and human decision processes looked at how people give and get advice, and how likely that advice is to affect their decisions.

The four types of advice explored were:

  • Advice for were recommendations for a particular option
  • Advice against were recommendations against a particular option
  • Decision support was suggestions on how to make the decision
  • Information was facts about the options that the decision maker didn’t know

In general, decision makers found all types of advice useful. However, the one type of advice that decision makers found most useful, and had the most impact on their decisions was information.

Participants felt that advice for, advice against and decision support robbed them of some independence in their decision. Information allowed them to make an informed decision, and would most likely influence future decisions. Furthermore, participants felt more confident about the decisions they made when advice came in the form of information.

Technical illustration is a highly informational medium, and this research is objective support to the power of information in the decision making process. Let your clients know that technical illustration deserves a place on the front lines of their sales efforts!

Full story via Psychology Today

Malofiej 18 – Award Winning Infographics

Presente, Diario del Sureste (México)

Presente, Diario del Sureste (México)

Malofiej is the Society for News Design‘s annual infographics competition. At Malofiej 18 last week, a jury of 13 international graphics editors and art directors awarded medals in a myriad of categories including Breaking News, One-Column and Interactive.

More images and links as well as a full list of award winners at Infographic News

Non-Disclosure Agreements

Technical Illustration Non-Disclosure Agreements

Technical Illustration and Non-Disclosure Agreements

Almost every project I take on involves signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement of some sort. An NDA is a contract that protects the client as well as the illustrator from legal and financial liability should confidential information related to the project fall in the hands of a third party.

A client with a patent pending wouldn’t want their illustrator disclosing details of a project to a competitor (or anyone for that matter). On the other hand, the illustrator needs to show work in their portfolio in order to bring in more work. The NDA contract ideally strikes a balance between the needs of the two parties.

For example, they may agree that everything is to be kept under wraps until the project is completed and published by the client. After that, the illustrator is free to use the sketches, roughs and finals for promotional purposes or even reuse or resale. This is a typical NDA clause for magazines

They may agree that all roughs, reference materials and correspondence be kept confidential, and that the illustrator can use only the final image. This is typical when working with science and technology firms.

Or the client may insist that the project be kept strictly confidential in perpetuity (Forever. Forever ever.). Because an illustrator needs to show work to get work, a clause like this seriously restricts future work opportunities. This factor must be taken into consideration when negotiating a fee for the project.

How to Get the Most out of NDA Negotiations

  • Understand your client’s needs. Clients often use boilerplate NDAs, meaning they’re often more restrictive than they need to be. Figure out what aspects are important to the client, and propose that the other restrictions be loosened.
  • Explain your needs. The client most likely hired you because of the work they saw in your portfolio. You might be missing out on the next job because you can’t show your work from this one. Explain to the client how that affects your fees.
  • Just ask. A contract usually states that changes can be made with express written consent. Once a project concludes, send the client a friendly follow-up email expressing your pride in the work and your desire to include it in your portfolio. Keep a copy of the email along with the NDA contract.
  • Deal with it. Sometimes a client really really needs absolute confidentiality. Try to work it into your fees – you don’t want this becoming standard practice. Use self-assigned projects to keep your portfolio updated and keep getting the work you want.

A non-disclosure agreement can work for you or against you. Read it. Understand it. Negotiate it. Abide by it!

How do you deal with non-disclosure agreements? Let us know in the comments!

Haiti Earthquake Infographic Contest

Aftermath of the Haiti Earthquake by Emily Schwartzman

Web-magazine GOOD, well known for their Transparency infographics, recently held a contest for readers to visually communicate information about the tragic earthquake in the Republic of Haiti. The scope and content was up to the contestant, and the prize was simply recognition.

The winning entry is above. You can see all the entries at higher resolution at GOOD.

What do you think? How can technical illustrators use their talents for good? Is this philanthropic or shameless self-promotion? Let us know what you think in the comments.

ICON Illustration Conference

ICON The Illustration Conference

Troy Doolittle (featured yesterday) is on the board of directors for ICON The Illustration Conference taking place in Los Angeles, California, July 14-17, 2010.

ICON6 delivers a compelling and provocative program with over 50 speakers who bring their unique take on the industry and professional practice. Representing the brightest minds from many creative fields including publishing, advertising, galleries, film, animation, fashion, design and retail, each guest speaker offers their experience, knowledge and insight through main stage speeches, roundtable discussions, hands-on workshops, exhibitions and networking events over a 4-day period in July 2010.

The conference schedule will be posted in the coming weeks, but from the list of speakers, there is sure to be no shortage of talent, experience and wisdom present.

Protecting Your Reputation

The phonecall woke me. It was early morning. Summer. A few months after graduation. I was a freelancer. I had started freelancing during college, so the transition to full-time freelancing after graduation was natural.

The phone rang again. This could be work. I scrambled for the phone. I didn’t recognize the number. Maybe a new client. It rang again. I answered.

“Hello, James speaking.”
“This is James Provost?”
“Yes it is.”
“Hello, this is John Smith. You posted a message on my blog yesterday?”
“I don’t think so…” Who the heck is John Smith??
“Do you know my blog?”
“Sorry, I don’t…”
“Could you please go to”

John is an illustrator, and like many illustrators, John blogs about his work. To my horror, in the comment section of the latest post on his blog was a rather inflammatory message. The author: James Provost. The message itself was standard internet troll-ism, your typical YouTube comment. But instead of using a disposable, anonymous identity, the troll had decided to use mine.

Read More



Outsourcing is a pretty hot topic, especially for those of us working in-house in a corporate environment. Obviously most illustrators aren’t too excited about the idea of losing their job to someone overseas charging 3 bucks an hour. Upper management loves it; they save on wages, benefits, computers, office space, etc. At the same time they will only pass those benefits on to the customer if they really have to.

I used to be pretty dead set against the idea of sending work overseas. I had it in my head that they were just lowly factory worker types out to get our jobs. I always thought a better compromise  would be to start up satellite offices in rural America, where land is cheap and unemployment is higher. Americans having a hard time finding work would be happy to work for even $10 per hour, but the jobs would stay in the country.

My attitude changed a bit with a trip I made to China last year to train a group of 10 illustrators there, which I commented about in this post. Who I found there weren’t sneaky job stealers out for American jobs – they were young, hungry illustrators who were lucky to get an education in illustration and not have to work in factories. They wanted desperately to learn and get good at their jobs, something I’ve rarely seen with the people I’ve worked with in the US.

Advantages of outsourcing

  • They work while you are sleeping
  • Low cost
  • Quick turn around times

Disadvantages of outsourcing

  • Communication can be difficult at times.
  • Training, either by traveling to their location or late night conference calls.
  • Getting the quality of work you expect.

How to be competitive with low cost countries

Develop a diverse set of skills. Be able to execute any project your client or employer needs, be prepared to learn how, or involve yourself in it in a meaningful way. Pay attention to what is going on in your industry. Be more than just hands, be their go-to person.

Pay attention to the warning signs. If your company starts up an office in China, chances are someone is going to lose a job. Start working on a Plan B or an exit strategy.

Stay ahead of the game, our field is constantly evolving, and we need to change and adapt along with it.

As a freelancer would you consider or do you already outsource some of your work during peak work loads? Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week advocates the use of outsourcing as a way to automate your life by working less and making more. If I picked up a huge contract I can’t say I wouldn’t consider it. Though I haven’t tried them, I know there are many sites out there to get you in touch with illustrators all over the world.

Honestly, I’m still on the fence about the whole thing. Of course I would like to keep jobs in the United States but the world is a different place, there are skilled, talented people all over who need jobs. Most of the stuff we own is made in china anyway. I think if it came down to it and I needed help with my work, I would try to go local first, if that didn’t pan out I would considering having the work done overseas.

What do you think?

Online Portfolio Sites


Whether you already have your own website and domain name to showcase your work, or you’re just getting started building your online presence, there are a myriad of existing free and paid portfolio sites to help you get your work in front of people. Some of these pre-fab portfolios are suitable to stand on their own, while others are great ways to direct an audience to your own website.
Read More

Changing Industries

This is my experience with switching from one industry to another.

I get the feeling that there are a lot of illustrators out there who are working in-house for companies and are either worried about the economy, getting laid off or having their jobs shipped off to low cost countries. Working in the auto industry for 13 years and seeing what was happening, we were constantly in fear of losing our jobs.

Read More