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i'd like to know if there are resources or background knowledge on the new tendency to smooth the lines/outlines and add gradients and shadows to information graphics. For example, on the new version of Microsoft Office for OSX, the default graphs show smooth lines, shadows and gradients everywhere (a pain to manage in illustrator, but otherwise attractive).

Those graphics are no more graphically simple (few colors, sharp contrasts), but perhaps visually simple (visual perception) ?

There's some connection with cognitive studies of visual perception, but i'd like to know if some graphical design experience, empirism, books or web resources are talking about this, thanks :)

---- edit

My question is about documentation and resources supporting this tendancy. Explanation and support of this change of style, if you want to use this point of view.

I'm trying to explain the reasons of this change, and looking for scientific or empiristic answers. For example, are those graphics more readable ? More aesthetic ? Or simply there because it's now possible to add those fancy gradients, shadows and smooth outlines (with software and hardware progress) ?

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I have a hunch it's just a trend in style. –  DA01 Feb 3 '11 at 15:03
    
Sorry but that's not my question... –  Laurent Jégou Feb 4 '11 at 14:26
    
Then what exactly is your question? A little bit more clarification would be nice. Because I too just see it as a certain style. –  Johannes Feb 6 '11 at 3:31
    
I'll edit the question to be clearer. –  Laurent Jégou Feb 6 '11 at 6:53
    
@DA01: you really ought to start making your comments into answers. –  Philip Regan Feb 6 '11 at 16:20

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

As for the exact combination of dropshadows, gradients, colors, and the like, it's like @DA01 said in his comment: that's as much about style trends as anything or an attempt to maintain branding or a templated design within a given publication.

The style of an infographic depends entirely on your target audience.

Developers of presentation and spreadsheet software add design elements by default to bring a bit of visual flair to their software, to appeal to their users—"Look at the beautiful graphics you can make at the press of a button!" It is possible, in most cases, to turn these unnecessary elements off.

But knowing from experience, the infographics that are used in professional texts (e.g., post-graduate, scientific, statistical, medical) typically don't have any extra visual elements except those for the express purpose of delivering data to the reader. Oftentimes, when we receive these types of graphics for the books my company publishes, they have been screengrabbed from Excel. We redraw them to clean them up (and if we can get the Excel spreadsheet that contains the data used to generate the graph, then all the better) to remove any excess.

In addition to the professional texts noted above, my company also publishes books intended for those that are trying to learn a trade skill or just meeting a degree requirement. Infographics that are used in lower-level texts (undergraduate, 101-level courses) are typically created with stylistic elements in an effort to hold the readers' interest, to make it more visually appealing.

There are whole courses and degrees given for data visualization and instructional design, and the publishing industry is always hungry for candidates with that type of knowledge.

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If i understand well, your opinion is that this type of infographics is not a graphic design trend but a mere software company style overload ? But it's a bit confusing, since this style is "more visually appealing", to a certain type of audience. "Good-looking graphics not too scary for beginners" ? –  Laurent Jégou Feb 7 '11 at 7:38
    
...continuing... Beautiful graphics but not enough serious ? That's perhaps another question but i'd like to read comments about the real usefulness of this style. I'd like very much some pointers to instructional design courses about this topic, thanks. –  Laurent Jégou Feb 7 '11 at 7:46
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"'Good-looking graphics not too scary for beginners'?" That's exactly it. Software developers are pitching convenience with style to their customers; basic texts with entry-level content are going to have information stylized to make it more palatable; professional texts are direct and to-the-point. Design trends really don't have as much to do with it as you might think. You certainly can create an infographic that is on the bleeding-edge of hip—examples on the web abound—but the bulk of the work is utilitarian; the correct delivery of data should (must) come first. –  Philip Regan Feb 7 '11 at 16:12

If you're interested in the visual treatments applied to plotting data, then pick up the Tufte books:

http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/

He's the 'godfather' of data visualization from a graphic design perspective.

Will he have specific data to explain visual design trends? Probably not. Sometimes a visual treatment is simply a trendy thing to do, regardless if it actually helps or hinders the message trying to be communicated.

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Thanks for your answer, i chalk it up on the "trend" side :). I didn't present myself, but i think it's now useful. I'm a teacher in graphic design, especially oriented toward scientific illustration and maps in particular. I know the works of E. Tufte, and i like the summary done by J. Krygier about maps (on his blog, makingmaps.net). I was wondering if practitioners of graphic design have sensed this as a stylistic trend or as new technical possibilities to achieve more "beautiful" graphics. –  Laurent Jégou Feb 7 '11 at 16:45

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