Why Designers Need Statistics

The pro­lif­er­a­tion of infograph­ics online is help­ing to make a broad, some­what stat­ist­ic­ally illit­er­ate, audi­ence aware of import­ant data and trends.

For those design­ing these infograph­ics, there­fore, there is a need that they under­stand their pro­cess intimately–from data col­lec­tion to illustration–in order to ana­lyse it hon­estly and with mean­ing.

Through a “show­case of bad infograph­ics”, Smash­ing Magazine lam­basts the trend of inap­pro­pri­ate infor­graph­ics and offers an inter­est­ing essay on why design­ers need to be stat­ist­ic­ally lit­er­ate.

The import­ance of stat­ist­ic­al lit­er­acy in the Inter­net age is clear, but the concept is not exclus­ive to design­ers. I’d like to focus on it because design­ers must con­sider it in a way that most people do not have to: stat­ist­ic­al lit­er­acy is more than learn­ing the laws of stat­ist­ics; it is about rep­res­ent­a­tions that the human mind can under­stand and remem­ber.

As a design­er, you get to choose those rep­res­ent­a­tions. Most of the time this is a pos­it­ive aspect. Visu­al rep­res­ent­a­tions allow you to quickly sum­mar­ize a data set or make con­nec­tions that might be dif­fi­cult to per­ceive oth­er­wise. Unfor­tu­nately, design­ers too often for­get that data exists for more than enter­tain­ment or aes­thet­ics. If you design a visu­al­iz­a­tion before cor­rectly under­stand­ing the data on which it is based, you face the very real risk of sum­mar­iz­ing incor­rectly, pro­du­cing faulty insights, or oth­er­wise mangling the pro­cess of dis­sem­in­at­ing know­ledge. If you do this to your audi­ence, then you have viol­ated an expect­a­tion of sin­gu­lar import­ance for any con­tent cre­at­or: their expect­a­tion that you actu­ally know what you’re talk­ing about.

The two rules of infograph­ic pro­duc­tion:

  1. If it would lead to the wrong con­clu­sions, not present­ing the data at all would be bet­ter.
  2. Your pro­ject isn’t ready to be released into the wild if you’ve spent more time choos­ing a font than choos­ing your data.

via @Foomandoonian

I am reminded of this tan­gen­tially-related infograph­ic tem­plate from Flow­ing­Data.