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.