Book Review: The Art of Looking Sideways – Alan Fletcher

So which book that relates to Qlikview to review first? Obviously a tricky question, especially when you consider that the only Qlikview ‘book’ in print is the Qlikview manual (I’m sure someone will write one in the not too distant future). I was thinking to begin with a book about dashboarding, or data visualisation in general but whilst I’ll get to several of those in the coming months I’ve decided to start with The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher that isn’t about anything specific at all!? HOWEVER; it is a book that has had a strong effect on the way I think about people’s perceptions of visuals and their resultant behaviour and is essential reading for anyone invloved in visual communication (as we Qlikview Developers are).

So why this book over so many of the other graphic design coffee table books well let me explain. Alan Fletcher is probably the most pre-eminent graphic deisgner of the 20th Century having worked across all fields of the industry, for hundreds of varying clients always with the aim of getting a message across to the viewer…and that’s what a dashbaord’s sole purpose is after all; information transfer; ‘is this data good or bad, are things getting better or worse?’. The Art of Looking Sideways is essentially a bibe of Alans lifetime of observations organized by chapters such as ‘Perspective’, ‘Aesthetics’, ‘Process’ etc, it could be called more of a ‘brain dump’ as at times it is infuriating to navigate having no real formal structure; it certainly isn’t a ‘cover-cover’ book. However for me there were many moments that left me looking at things in a new way (the ‘Sideways’ of the title I guess) as well as formalising things that I (and you) do but never even realise. By way of an example of some of the things the book demonstrates; imagine you’re walking down a country lane and see the following sign hand painted on a weathered wooden board:


Implicity this sign tells you more than simply ‘Fresh Farm Eggs’ it says; ‘You’re buying eggs from the farmer, these hens roam around freely, the eggs are local’ etc; the sign matches the product on offer. You stroll on down the road and come across a similar sign attached to a post:

This Too Says Far More Than

This sign too says more than it’s text; ie; ‘you’d be mad to take us up on our offer’. So to me the Qlikview relevance is clear; you can be saying one thing with the data in your dashboard but if the surronding ‘information’ that is; the colour, shape, size etc contradicts it the viewers’ perception will be very different, in simple terms; colour some text red and people think its bad, colour it green and they think it’s good.

There are many more pages and sections like the above within the book along with things that are merely interesting, and many quotes to make you think such as the all time classic; ‘That person you love is 72.8% water.’. This certainly isn’t a book to read in bed (it’s 3-inches thick for a start) and can’t really be used as a reference source, however that’s not the point here, the point is the slow appreciation of the subjects covered; you seem to soak Alan’s outlook and find yourself viewing the world in a new way; a sideways way.

Finally if you have an interest in art, architecture, graphics or design I can recommend Phaidon as a good publisher to look at further.

Qlikview Rating: 4/5 (In general terms at least) | Overall Rating: 5/5 (Not withstanding the difficult layout)

The Art of Looking Sideways is available via Amazon for quite frankly a bargain: £18.58 / $32.97 (it’s 1,068 pages long) and I gaurantee it will change at least a bit of the way you think:

For more details on Alan Fletcher:

Happy reading,


Next Review: The Visual Display of Quantative Information by Edward Tufte

One Response to “Book Review: The Art of Looking Sideways – Alan Fletcher”
  1. Neha S says:

    Bought the book long back. Its heavy and really big. Filled with tiny snippets collected/created by Mr Fletcher over a long period of time. Its classified into a fixed no of sections and offers delightful insights into designing from many different perspectives.
    I use this book when I am stuck. Like at a ‘designers block’.
    Take a random page, read through it and get inspired. Its wonderful. 🙂

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