But is it art?

Jon-Browne [Posted by Jonathan Browne]

I'm noticing more and more "word clouds" in company reports and other business documents:

.Forrester Blog Wordle Portrait 

Title: A Portrait Of The Forrester CXP Blog by Jonathan Browne - June, 2009.

(The eggplant shape represents Forrester analysts - Thin skinned and bitter inside. Best taken with a pinch of salt).

The growth of this phenomenon might be thanks to simple tools such as www.wordle.net that automate the process of creating graphics from collections of words. To use Wordle, you need only paste some text or a URL into the Web site. The fact that a klutz like me can just enter a blog address into a form and generate this surely means that it's no more artistic than the pie charts that I generate from Excel worksheets.

More importantly, it's not very useful. I'm a little concerned that I've seen these things pop up in persona documents and other guides for web site design teams. I don't think a jumble of words will help people make better design decisions. It's better to create lifelike personas that clearly express what target customers want, and that designers can easily relate to and remember. (William Morris once said "Have nothing in your home that you do not believe to be beautiful or know to be useful". It's sound advice).

That's not to say that these things aren't fun. Here's one that says "Providing mean analyst hard work". (See the top left of the graphic). I'm going to dedicate it to my research director and Forrester's sales organization.

Providing mean analyst hard work 

It is somewhat amusing, but it's not art and I don't think it has any place in the designer's tool kit.

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you, whether you agree or disagree. (And especially if you disagree, please let me know how these word graphics are helpful to you. Let me know the circumstances in which they're valuable).

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