Anti-Data Pixels

This entry is part 29 of 43 in the series Words

Less is More
Mies van der Rohe

In high school English class, many of my generation were forced to study a book about writing known as “Strunk and White.” Compared to many other books we were forced to read, it had many advantages. It was short. It was to-the-point. It was full of pithy sayings, the most pithy: omit needless words.

In Cognitive Friction, we extended the idea to graphical computer user interfaces as “omit needless pixels.” In Performance, Data Pixels, Location, and Preattentive Attributes we looked at Nielsen and Tahir’s analysis of the percentage of a home page’s area devoted to different purposes; in this way, we could determine which were valid data pixels, which were not, and the ratio of data to non-data pixels.

In Lessons from Tufte, we read from The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

The larger the share of a graphic’s ink devoted to data, the better (other relevant matters being equal):

Maximize the data-ink ratio, within reason.

Every bit of ink on a graphic requires a reason. And nearly always that reason should be that the ink presents new information. …

The other side of increasing the proportion of data-ink is an erasing principle:

Erase non-data-ink, within reason.

Ink that fails to depict statistical information does not have much interest to the viewer of a graphic; in fact, sometimes such nondata-ink clutters up the data…

In Menu we discussed “analysis paralysis”: the more choices on a computer screen, the harder it is to use, and the more likely a user will make a mistake; and the importance of paring down the number of choices. We may consider the area of a computer screen devoted to choices that users never or rarely use to be made up of non-data-pixels. What is worse, these supernumerary choices distract from the data pixels, and since they are worse than other non-data pixels (they distract more), we may term them anti-data-pixels.

Want to make a computer screen or web page better? First, omit anti-data pixels. In a future post, I will discuss a heuristic (fancy name for a simple rule) for determining how to do this. Next, omit non-data pixels. What is left should be pure, clean, relevant data.

Death to anti-data pixels!

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This entry was posted by kconover on Thursday, March 28th, 2013 at 1:41 pm and is filed under Tutorials . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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