I have a question/argument about the topic of chartjunk (using extra ink in a chart, without giving any additional information through that ink). In every visualization guide I read so far, there is the opinion that chartjunk should be avoided at any moment. This is often backed up by Tufte’s data to ink ratio rule, that states the data to ink ratio should be maximized. And I understand the argument of having more difficulty in extracting the relevant information if the data to ink ratio is low. But there’s one great advantage that tends to be left out. It’s in my opinion the reason why people came up with charts like this one in the first place:
It’s attention-grabbing. Especially in modern times, we are flooded with all kinds of visualizations, where having a uniqueness factor like this, makes them stand out and therefore more interesting, and probably more memorable.
Another aspect speaking for the use of chart-junk would be the fact that, depending on the concrete visualization, there isn’t the necessity in quickly spotting detailed information. The picture I showed above, is a good example for this. It’s aim isn’t to show you how much exactly a diamond cost in the year 1979, but to show the general trend, in this case going up until 1980 and then dropping heavily later on.
And if that’s the goal of this visualization, then in my opinion, the creators of this chart did a pretty good job in achieving that.
Do you agree? And if so, shouldn’t there be an alternative word that doesn’t contain “junk” for this technique?
Author: Nigel Holmes
Publisher: TIME Magazine
“A Gem That Lost Its Luster,” Time 120, no. 9 (August 30, 1982)