Just saw Noah's post about infographics where he is writing about "the entire phenomenon of turning a whole bunch of information into a pretty, but mostly incomprehensible, picture and presenting it to the world."
I've done my share of data collection and presentation; some of the stuff is fairly complex with hundreds of data points packed in one image, other stuff is more like this classic parody from Flowing Data. What I have found out is that both forms have their place. The latter, or as Tufte put it, "chartoonery", has been useful when:
-- When I want my data to make a point quickly, and when I want the data to be self-sustaining and not require someone's voice-over.
-- When I have a presentation and the pages of supporting data are customarily stuck in the "appendix" that nobody ever reads, a "chartoon" works as a lot more attractive and usable summary of the findings.
-- When I have data I want people to share with others, they are a lot more likely to pass around a single image than raw tables or decks with pages of Excel charts. "Chartoons" are also easier to embed into a blog post.
-- When people want to keep a set of data handy for continuous reference, they are more likely to print out (and even hang on their wall; true story) a "chartoon" poster than a bunch of PowerPoint slides.
-- When I am sick of looking at raws of numbers, fumbling with fonts and laying things out on a page is a calming exercise not unlike doing dishes. So it's about the end justifying the means, really.
Fundamentally, I don't disagree with Noah. It's amusing and mildly irritating that some of the shallowest, ugliest and often inaccurate junk that is passed for infographics these days eclipses in popularity the truly outstanding work (here's one example) that may take weeks to build. But that really shouldn't influence how we choose our own tools, right?
Speaking of tools, have you seen tagxedo.com? It's like Wordle on steroids.
Image by: deryckh