The Functional Art: Introduction

Themes of Alberto Cairo’s The Functional Art (TFA).

1. The brain doesn’t just process information that comes through the eyes. It also creates mental visual images that allow us to reason and plan actions that facilitate survival. Understanding how your brain forms mental images will help you be a better communicator.

2. Infographics and information visualization exist on a continuum. They are not two separate disciplines. Traditionally they have been defined as: infographics present information by means of statistical charts, maps, and diagrams; information visualization offers visual tools that an audience can use to explore and analyze data sets. Or infographics tell stories designed by communicators and information visualizations helps users discover stories on their own.

Cairo argues that the two exist on one spectrum with both a presentation and an exploration component.


All graphics ‘present’ data and allow a certain degree of ‘exploration’. Ones that focus more on presentation could be considered more infographics and others that focus more on exploration could be considered visualizations.

3. Graphics, charts, and maps aren’t just tools to be seen, but to be read and scrutinized. The first goal of an infographic is not to be beautiful just for the sake of eye appeal, but, above all, to be understandable first, and beautiful after that; or to be beautiful thanks to its exquisite functionality.

4. The relationship between visualization and art is similar to the linkage of journalism and literature. A journalist can borrow tools and techniques from literature, and be inspired by great fiction writing, but they will never allow their stories to become literature. This idea can be applied to visualization, which is above all, a functional art.


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