There are lots of cool tools and applications for making graphs, charts, maps and timelines. Some are easy. Some are sophisticated. But the key to making data visualizations is understanding some key concepts for communicating with your audience.
What is data visualization?
“A visualization or infographic is a graphical representation of evidence and a tool for analysis, communication, and understanding. Visualizations are the only way to extract meaning and see patterns and trends in a data set.” -Alberto Cairo, author of The Functional Art
Or in other words, the audience should be able to look at a visualization and understand the data at a glance.
Alberto Cairo’s Four Elements of Visualization
According to Cairo, a great visualization does four things:
-The graphics should answer key questions visually.
-If it is not interesting or attractive, readers will skip it.
-It puts your data in context. It gives meaning to numbers.
-The information shapes the reader’s perception. It should be surprising, revealing and informative.
Every time you see a visualization, try to extract meaning from it. What is the take away?
- At Chipotle, How Many Calories Do People Really Eat? (Upshot)
- How Many High School Stars Make It To the NBA (The Pudding)
- Language communities of Twitter (Flowing Data)
- Graveyards of USA (Joshua Stevens)
- Where To Find the Good Life (National Geographic)
- Four Types of Will Farrell Movies (FiveThirtyEight)
- Mikaela Shiffrin’s Gold Rush (NYTimes.com)
Visualization is about communication – balance of words and graphics
Complex and flashy is not better
Function, Beauty, Insight, Enlightening
Extract meaning at a glance
Graphics should answer readers’ questions
Know why you are using a specific graph or chart