When it’s all a little too perfect

Design, Opinion, UX

At some level almost every presentation we make is an interpretation of the facts that we are presenting. Even when we present all of the data, the way in which we present it will usually betray some level of bias, and certainly when we begin to abstract data we exclude and inevitably introduce a skew.

Designers, particularly those who are tasked with presenting data, may tend to skew towards aesthetics in the first instance, rather than making an overt statement or political point. But what happens when this drive for aesthetics is prioritised over the data that underpins it? Do these designs unintentionally smooth off rough edges and present a view that is a little too perfect?

For hundreds of years designers have used ‘lorem ipsum’, boilerplate latin text, as placeholders for content in their layouts, only to find that when the ‘real’ content is dropped in, their meticulously constructed design breaks. Sometimes it’s back to the drawing board, but often it’s the content that is sacrificed (falling under the editor’s blue pencil) and ends up being tweaked to keep the integrity of the design.

When it comes to interpreting the data that is presented to us, beauty can often be a signifier that we are not seeing the complete picture. Real data is full of caveats, context, inaccuracies and uncertainty. Rarely does it present itself in perfect form. In order to appear beautiful it may have to be manipulated or at best abstracted to an extent where the rough edges appear smooth.

Where data is used as to create a visual or experiential sensation, it is often the higher level, overall message that is important. But when we are looking to presentations of data for deeper meaning and closer analysis, it is often the imperfections, the inconsistencies and holes that point us towards understanding what is really going on.

Where beauty is marred and the design is shown deliberately as flawed, this is where we draw the real value through our understanding and questioning of what we are seeing. Making the trends noticeable has to be one of the most important factors. If you are still salivating over how beautiful it is, you may just miss the point.