"Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design" describes itself as an expansion of the first book, aimed at being the definition of contemporary information graphics, with new techniques and forms of expression. Instead the book is a gallery of information as art, which in turn deconstructs the data flows and sources, and displays in such a way as to render information as a design element rather than a useful product that can be used and reused.
If you have seen the first book then you know what to expect. The graphic design stretches from the ordinary to the exotic and intricate, ranging from small `ikea type' bookcase colour schemes of paper stacks to thought provoking art installations such as the giant 3D carbon dioxide emissions sphere that dissolves into smaller spheres as you interact. The symmetry of a biologist drawing of a newly discovered plant species. Hand carved bell curved bells cluster on a wooden chopping board. White origami sine waves ripple out from a white square box. Spirograph lampshades resemble the intricate lattice work of nature.
The flaw in this approach is it does not communicate information in a way that's easily understood. A quality of `information' is it's usefulness and usability. Patterns on wallpaper and tree truck dissections all reveal the unique shape of data flows, but fail to provide metrics, a requirement for analysis and conversion to true `information'. Instead we get the raw data as a colour coded fractal, a construct from which you can search for meaning in but not a tool to leverage from.
The language of visual communication and information has its foundations in the automatic reactions we have embedded into our subconscious minds; what we have inherited and learnt. It makes sense to leverage off these cultural triggers.
The final chapter has a piece that devolves into `nonsensical infographics'. These 3D Mondrian style transparent blocks of colour `expose what information graphics looks like without any true data or statistics', this claim would be valid for the majority of the book, which is riddled with abstractions. This chapter contains the cover piece, part of a stunning set of pieces that photoshop mountain ranges into NYSE stock indices. Fantastical landscapes but ultimately not real.
For anyone looking for a book that opens the door into a world of data as art then you have found it. For those looking for how to distill information from data sets in useful ways there are some nuggets. The 3d bar chart with X axis time, Y axis Volume and Z width axis as market share highlights competition in a new useful way. The use of font, typography and simplicity is refreshing. And, if you search, you will find the idea's behind the art lead to new doors, whether usable intelligence lies behind them remains to be seen.