Bill Scott, a former coworker and web development rockstar, has a great blog post “Virtual Pizza Pie Chart: High Tech Chartjunk” about when a chart design/technology itself becomes the star – instead of the data. He shows a horrid example from CNN:
What I love is how the technology completely takes over. It pops out and looks like it could hurt someone. Then it obscures the rest of the panelists. And finally Anderson is so enamored with trying to keep it from bursting again that he is using all his brain cycles to keep the 3D virtual pie chart on that silly piece of cardboard.
Bill makes me think of a metaphor I often use. Being a technologist is like being a film editor. I’m specifically thinking about personalization technologies but most technology has this paradigm.
If a film is edited well, the audience will talk about how the movie was exciting, dramatic, and the story just grabbed you – no one will say “that was a well edited film”. But if you do your job poorly, everyone will notice – “that was so choppy”, “the editing was off”, etc.
We need to remember that our job is to build technology that fades into the background so the user can focus on what really matters: the content, the community, their friends.