When Amanda Shendruk took the stage, she wasted no time by showing us the good, the bad, and the ugly of data visuals. We were hardly experts on the matter, but the audience could unanimously agree on the infographs that we understood, and those that left us staring blankly. That’s because regardless of its effectiveness, its purpose was clear. Data visualization is about helping the audience understand complicated concepts- at a glance. What we would learn was this carefully considered tool strikes a balance between creative design and data integrity. It manages to be accurate and objective, but also fun and underwhelming.
Most of us social media users think of data visualization as the marketing infographs we’ve seen on Twitter or Facebook. However, good data visualization avoids stating an opinion, lets the data do the talking, and the viewer explore the information. While the concept seems simple enough, Amanda taps into a background in journalism and her knowledge of psychology and design theory to put it all together. Thankfully, she has this process down to an art and provided us with a list of considerations she calls, the six pillars of infographic design…
6 pillars of infographic design:
1. Know the purpose, know your audience. Are you telling a story? Have a question that you’re trying to answer? Visualize what would work best for your audience. Don’t make assumptions about your audience. Rather, make it appealing to a large group. It should be fun to look at and not overwhelming. It’s complex information and it needs to compete against the 8 hours of data we’re exposed to in a single day.
2. Maintain the integrity of the data: think about the form that you’ll use to present your data. However you jazz up your infographic, the focus should be on the data. Consider its appropriate format: line chart, pie graph, histogram, plot, etc. One thing is for certain, she tells us to leave the pie in the kitchen! Pie charts are difficult to accurately represent data and compare to other charts. Almost anything in a pie chart can be better shown through a bar graph.
Also, don’t forget some of those basic rules that we all learned in elementary school. Ensuring your numbers actually add up makes all the difference to properly educating your audience. This means your pie graph shouldn’t add up to over 180%. You may laugh- but we’ve seen it.
3. Balance form and function: should a graphic look pretty or be accurate? How do you balance design with accuracy? We know from a Poynter Institute EyeTracker study that, on average, readers will overwhelmingly ignore plots and graphs, and are exceptionally drawn to visualizations, and infographics. We also know from academic studies that the most accurate way to present data is usually the most boring: bar chart, and scatter plots. Unfortunately, these do not make pretty graphics. Some are of the philosophy that, “the data doesn’t matter if people are not looking at it”. This is where chart junk comes into play.
Chart junk is the visual elements in charts and graphics that are unnecessary to understanding the information. This type of cluttering can detract from your message but, “chart junk is okay sometimes. People will remember more of the data if some chart junk is used”, says Amanda. However, please use discretion.
4. Allow for exploration: the best infographs allow for exploration of data. She believes everything should be gained “at-a-glance”. Work with colour, form and annotation to ensure that your audience doesn’t have to work too hard to get something out of it. But from there, let them explore! Infographics and data visualization aren’t about simplifying concepts, which is a common misconception; it is about clarifying them.
5. Work with the brain, not against it: In 1956, Gelsault published a paper that suggests the number of objects the average human can hold in working memory is seven, plus or minus two. So don’t make it difficult for people because they have a limit on the information they can process. Help them by using what we know about how the brain perceives visual information.
6. Keep it Simple- keep it basic: The Data itself is beautiful, so let it speak for itself. You’re not doing it any favours by cluttering it with useless images or suggestive adaptations.
While there continues to be an aesthetics vs. analytics debate, it all comes down to knowing your purpose. Data visualization cannot express everything, nor are they meant to. The purpose of it is to offer those quick representations of data but not the whole story.
Amanda left us with her inspiration when she said: “not every story needs to be conveyed through word”. Thank you Amanda for a fantastic presentation.
For more information, visit her website Aesthetic Intelligence and see the power of infographics for yourself. We’ve also put together tweets of the night for you to check out.
Special thanks to our sponsors Canvas Pop, the National Arts Centre and Kinki/Mambo for donating amazing prizes for our Girl Geeks! We won’t see you again until January so have a very safe and happy holiday.