Wednesday, December 12, 2012

the functional art

It's a little beat up and has scraps of paper sticking out in various directions marking pages I want to refer back to: it's my copy of the functional art by Alberto Cairo, and it's been everywhere with me over the past month - from LA to DC to Milwaukee, and several places in between (yes, that probably means I'm a slow reader). I finished it on my latest plane ride home. In a word: it was awesome.

As the subtitle declares, the focus of the book is information graphics and visualization. Alberto has a conversational, super accessible writing style. His research is augmented with his extensive experience in data journalism and the book is filled with illustrative stories and examples. the functional art begins with a section on Foundations - what visualization is and does, the importance of building a narrative structure, and introduces a visualization wheel to evaluate competing priorities. It then moves into Cognition - discussion of the eye, the brain, and how people see. The third section focuses on Practice - the infographic creation process and interactive graphics. While I enjoyed the entire book, the final section, Profiles, was my personal favorite - it recaps Alberto's interviews with various practitioners working with infographics. I also enjoyed examining the various examples throughout the book and seeing the progression from sketches to final product.

The book was inspiring, as is Alberto's work in general. I had the pleasure of speaking with him a couple of months ago, when he was getting ready to launch the first massive online course on an Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization through the Knight Center. This 6 week course filled up quickly, so a second was recently announced that begins in January (details here). Alberto also teaches at the University of Miami and blogs at His passion in this space is clear and from what I've seen, permeates through all that he does.

For those interested in infographics or data visualization in general, I highly recommend the functional art; you can purchase a copy of it here.


  1. I was lucky enough to read some of the chapters for Alberto's MOOC and it's hands down, one of the best I've read. It takes everything I've been reading across the web from Twitter, your blog, etc. and packages it all up. It's an incredible resource and I recommend this to anyone looking to get into information graphcis or data visualization.

  2. Thanks for the tip Cole, I'll check it out. I just ordered "Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics," have you read that?

  3. Hi Brittany, +1 on the content. Alberto also put together a bundle on data viz and related blogs that you can add to your reader here:

    Sam, yes Visualize This is another of my faves. You can see my book review if you're interested:

    Thanks for your comments!

  4. Hi Cole

    Some reasonable data viz (not great) on