Tag Archives: infovis

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.

The Evidence For (and Against) Health Supplements: a Visualisation

After col­lat­ing the res­ults of over 1,500 stud­ies and meta-stud­ies (only “large, human, ran­dom­ized placebo-con­trolled tri­als” were included), Inform­a­tion is Beau­ti­ful’s Dav­id McCand­less col­lab­or­ated with Andy Per­kins to pro­duce a com­pre­hens­ive data visu­al­isa­tion map­ping the the effect­ive­ness (or not) of a wide range of health sup­ple­ments (there’s a stat­ic image and inter­act­ive Flash ver­sion avail­able).

Some of the find­ings:

  • Green tea has been shown to lower cho­les­ter­ol in a large num­ber of stud­ies, but there’s no sign of can­cer pre­ven­tion prop­er­ties.
  • There’s strong evid­ence show­ing Omega 3’s cho­les­ter­ol-lower­ing abil­it­ies and good evid­ence indic­at­ing it can help improve some ADHD beha­viour and lower blood pres­sure. In terms of pre­vent­ing arth­rit­is and can­cer, and in reliev­ing depres­sion, the evid­ence is con­flict­ing.
  • Fish oil has been shown to help lower blood pres­sure and the risk of sec­ond­ary heart dis­ease, but the evid­ence for it improv­ing gen­er­al health isn’t strong (but is prom­ising).
  • Vit­am­in D is fant­ast­ic: great for all-round gen­er­al health and can­cer pre­ven­tion.
  • Vit­am­ins A and E aren’t bene­fi­cial for much at all, while Vit­am­in C stud­ies are some­what con­flict­ing.
  • Beta carotene’s pos­i­tion sur­prised me: there is little-to-no evid­ence of any health bene­fits. The same goes for acai and goji ber­ries, ginkgo biloba and cop­per.

The raw data used to gen­er­ate the visu­al­isa­tion is available–along with citations–in a Google doc­u­ment that is occa­sion­ally being updated.

Newspaper Design Using Web Design Principles

Earli­er this year Swiss news­pa­per Tages-Anzei­ger asked Inform­a­tion Archi­tects, a Japan­ese-Swiss UX-ori­ented web design agency, to come up with a pitch for a redesign of their offline news­pa­per.

The res­ult is a concept and set of designs that are subtle re-work­ings of what works for print, integ­rated with what works online.

The concept was: Use all know­ledge from con­tem­por­ary user exper­i­ence design and trans­late it to paper. Make the paper more usable, think cross media instead of sep­ar­ate media, while using the strength of the paper (pic­tures, info graph­ics, nice text) to the max. Keep the look as close as pos­sible to the ori­gin­al brand and change the guts of the design. Make a product that people want to buy because it is more usable that the com­pet­it­or, not because it wins graph­ic design prices.

Basic rule: Ignore all rules of news­pa­per design to start with and keep only the ones that are use­ful to the read­er:

  1. Optim­ize text for read­ing.
  2. Reduc­tion to two fonts.
  3. Scan­nab­il­ity and print link.
  4. Order.
  5. Four columns for soft news, five columns for hard news, mixed 4/5 columns for sports. Ragged text for opin­ion.
  6. Big pic­tures, big info graph­ics, use the strength of the paper medi­um.

I am reminded of two instances where large inform­a­tion visu­al­isa­tions were prom­in­ent on the front page of news­pa­pers: The Inde­pend­ent’s Middle East cease­fire infograph­ic and a Her­ald graph­ic depict­ing Wash­ing­ton’s $2 bil­lion budget defi­cit. It works.

via @mocost

Update: I knew I had seen this before and knew I had­n’t writ­ten about it here on Lone Gun­man before. How­ever, thanks must go to Andrew Smith for point­ing out in the com­ments that it was pos­ted here pre­vi­ously: by the eru­dite Andrew Simone in his guest post, News­pa­per.

Steve Jobs and Circular Visualisations (Not Just Pie Charts)

Pie charts have been hav­ing a bad time of it lately* and I can­’t see things improv­ing any­time soon.

In one of the bet­ter art­icles look­ing at this humble chart, Bri­an Suda notes not only at what you can do instead, but what improve­ments you can make if you’re forced to use the pie chart.

The ori­gin­al idea behind a pie chart is that it rep­res­ents parts of a whole, each sliv­er or wedge is a sec­tion, when totaled gives you the over­all pic­ture. Over the years pie charts have morph­ed purely into eye-candy, exem­pli­fied by their sis­ter graph the dough­nut chart, which offers zero addi­tion­al inform­a­tion.

If we look at a few examples, you will quickly see the fail­ings in the cir­cu­lar design along with how easy it can be used to mis­rep­res­ent data.

One such example of how a pie chart can be used to mis­rep­res­ent data was Steve Jobs’ key­note at Mac­world 2008–as dis­cussed in Suda’s art­icle and over at The Guard­i­an.

* Seth God­in called pie charts “spec­tac­u­larly over­rated” and Seed said we need to “get past the pie chart”.

The Principles of Edward Tufte

The prob­lem: “present­ing large amounts of inform­a­tion in a way that is com­pact, accur­ate, adequate for the pur­pose, and easy to under­stand”.

The solu­tion: Edward Tufte (actu­ally, the solu­tion is “to devel­op a con­sist­ent approach to the dis­play of graph­ics which enhances its dis­sem­in­a­tion, accur­acy, and ease of comprehension“… but that’s not as catchy).

Yes, it’s an art­icle out­lining Edward Tufte’s “work on the  use of graph­ics to dis­play quant­it­at­ive inform­a­tion”, as gleaned from his three books: The Visu­al Dis­play of Quant­it­at­ive Inform­a­tion, Visu­al Explan­a­tions, and Envi­sion­ing Inform­a­tion.