We are surrounded by data everyday and we are becoming more adept at interpreting visualizations of this data. From graphs, to charts, to maps, to infographics, we are expected to quickly read and understand data as it is presented in articles and in the news. Joey Stanley, PhD candidate in Linguistics, reminds us to be skeptical of the method and delivery of this data as objective truth in his series of workshops on data visualization.
The initial goal of the workshops was help students and faculty make better visualizations. Using Edward Tufte‘s principles of design, Stanley advocates for simplicity and using Tufte’s concept of “proportional ink,” or the idea of being faithful to the data you have and using the amount of ink (pixels) proportional to the data you are representing. The best visualization will help the reader to quickly understand the data as directly and as faithfully as possible.
Though adding a three dimensional graph or adding a lot of color may seem like the way to make a poster or presentation stand out, these additions might hide the strength of your argument behind unnecessary clutter.
Stanley and GIS Librarian, Meagan Duever, took up this point in their workshop “Send the right message: The dos and don’ts of color.” Building on Tufte’s principles they spoke against using unnecessary color and ensuring everything on the visualization has a function and that your argument is clear whether you’re using a map, graph, or other visualization.
Through both presentations Stanley and Duever advocated for transparency in how and what data you are using and in accessibility in your visualizations in making the argument clear. The audience saw what goes into creating a visualization. Far from objective, hundreds of decisions about which data to represent, how to illustrate that data, and even what colors to use, have a deep impact on the way we see and interpret data. The audience for these workshops is now well armed to evaluate any graph or map they encounter in the future.
Listen to a recording of “Fidelity, integrity, and sophistication: Edward Tufte’s principles of data visualization”
View the slides from “Send the right message: The dos and don’ts of color”