Choosing what information to leave out can be harder — and more important — than choosing what to include. Restraint directs people to meaning, while excess information only clouds the focus. This rule applies as much in data visualization as it does in art.
In Visual Explanations, Edward Tufte elegantly likens the trajectory of data visualization and art, from representational to abstract, by discussing the development of maps:
“To go from maps of existing scenery to graphs of newly measured and collated data was an enormous conceptual step. Embodied in the very first maps were all the ideas necessary for making statistical graphics – quantified measures of locations of nouns in two-dimensional space – and yet it took 5,000 years to change the name of the coordinates from west-east and north-south to empirically measured variables X and Y. The even longer history of art took a similar course: The naturalistic coordinate... keep reading