Alberto Cairo's The Functional Art

by Peter Gamble-Beresford

I chose Alberto Cairo’s The Functional Art for this week’s book review blog post. Due tothe high quality of all the other blog posts I’ve been publishing this week, I’ve been unable to get further than the first chapter. However, I’m rather glad about that, because, knowing I wouldn’t complete the book, I decided to find out more about the author, and came across this presentation by the man himself, where he introduces his book and the concepts that lie within. It’s an hour long, but it’s totally worth it. Here it is, watch it!

I watched the entire hour lecture, and I have to say it was both really very interesting and rather entertaining. Alberto comes across as hugely passionate, and you can really see that he cares a lot about his area of expertise. He begins with almost a rant about misleading use of statistics, which I found particularly poignant given the proximity to the UK EU in-out referendum and the swathes of exaggerated and alarmist ‘statistics’ currently being banded around in social and traditional media.I digress.  He goes on to introduce the concepts in his book, which aren’t just the usual dos and don’ts of data visualisation (a well-covered topic and controversial at times – just ask an expert about pie-charts), but a more in-depth coverage of the real foundations of data analysis, why we bother to know about statistics, why we are concerned with facts or story-telling, and venturing into the human mind: how it works, and how best to prevent information for the brain to quickly interpret.

I particularly enjoyed that he stresses the importance of best practice. In an age where technology makes it incredibly easy to visualise information, the necessity to really think about the output being created should not be overlooked. Just because something is easy and impressive to make doesn’t mean it is an effective communication of the message. Learning how best to use a tool to communicate is possibly more important than simply learning how to use a tool.

Having watched an introduction to the functional art by Alberto Cairo, I feel I’ll be able to enjoy the book much more than had I read it without researching the author beforehand – especially because he is a very expressive speaker, and I’ll now have his enthusiastic voice narrating in my head throughout my read!