By this point, you are already a savvy visualizer, weaving narratives and painting grand pictures with the data you are provided with. However, there is always room for improvement; there is always a bit of wiggle-room within which to truly optimize the visuals we create.
Image via Pixabay.com
Below, you will find a few examples that demonstrate how this can be achieved. These are a series of tweaks that you can apply to visuals to ensure that they are delivering maximum insight, wielding maximum power and securing maximum influence among content users.
Step by Step
We need to keep in mind what we are aiming to achieve with our visualizations. We are not simply presenting data, we are taking the content user on a journey, demonstrating cause, effect and insight as we go.
To achieve this, we need to work in layers, offering up a visual which works on a general, instantaneous level, but which also provides deeper insight the further we drill down into it. For example, visualizing events along a timeline is great for demonstrating progression over time, but its benefit to the user can be further augmented.
By introducing an element of interactivity and by allowing users to select different points along our timeline, accessing data on different levels and in different configurations, we are able to tune-up our content and increase its efficacy. Rather than leading content users down a narrow narrative path, we are enabling them to explore and discover their own insight. This provides a far more rewarding experience for the user and a more complete visual.
Understand the Content Journey
You’ve probably heard a great deal about omni-channel in the context of marketing and customer support, but the concept is applicable to data visualization too. The ways in which users access and consume content has changed and is continuing to evolve, so our visualizations must reflect this.
In April 2016, comScore published a report which showed that mobile platforms are now the main growth sector in content marketing, with traditional desktop platforms taking a backseat. Nowadays, 65% of content access comes via a mobile device, representing a growth of 12 percentage points in only 24 months. Previously, desktop access had been a major contender, with 47% of the market share. This has since dropped to 35%.
This does not mean that we should ignore desktop users – 35% is still a substantial figure after all – but that we should tune and optimize our content to reflect this new content journey. Unless your visualization is accessible and usable on smartphone devices, tablets, laptop computers and desktop computers, you stand to miss out on a significant proportion of the market.
The direction is now clear: optimize your content – and your data visualizations – for all access points.
Play with Intuition
Psychology and human response are at the very heart of data visualization. In order to get the best results from our visuals, it is important to understand this and to ensure that we incorporate this into our work.
We need not hold PhDs in anthropology and clinical psychology to understand that the brain reacts subconsciously to visual cues. A data point which is larger in scale than those around it will automatically draw the eye, and will be considered of a higher value to other features in the same chart. Gentle colors like pastel blue and green will have a calming influence on the user, while red will signify danger and urgency.
The same concepts can be used to bind our visuals and, the insights drawn from them, to a wider meaning or context. This needs to be handled carefully, so as not to distract from the overall effect. Different shapes and images have different associations, and deploying them within a visualization can provide the additional psychological triggers that we want to achieve, providing they don’t get in the way of the message.
Keep it light, keep it considered, and guide the content user towards the right conclusion and association.
Strip It Down
Successful data visualizations are taut, honed and well-oiled machines. Tune-up your content to meet these criteria by trimming the fat and adopting a ‘less is more’ approach.
We are not talking about less insight here; instead, we are talking about less additional features and superfluous elements which could detract from the narrative. Just like we talked about above, regarding visual cues for content users, we have to make sure that the data and insight we offer up is neat, tidy and clear.
For this, we need a perfect marriage of medium and message. An example of this can be found in the Financial Times’ visualization of Novak Djokovic’s performances in 2015. This visualization was conducted using a simple graph, plotting average tournament results against the number of titles achieved in a season. The shaded circle shapes used to highlight the different data points are reminiscent of visual systems such as Hawkeye, used in tennis for judging contentious line-calls, which ties the whole theme together with beautiful simplicity.
There are no garish green or blue backgrounds representing tennis courts, no anthropomorphized tennis rackets doing their thing in the corner, nor are their different lines and axis criss-crossing one another in an attempt to wring as much insight as possible from the graphic.
Instead, there is a subtle, illuminating piece of visualization which does everything a visualization should do, and a little bit more.
Compliment, Don’t Counteract
Unless you are producing a standalone infographic or interactive visual with one eye on social media virality, it is likely that your visualization is going to sit within a longer piece of content. This is where a strategy is required.
Make sure that your visualization team and your content production team are singing from the same hymn sheet from the word go. The content must work in harmony, with the two elements complimenting one another. This includes placing the visual in the right position within the content, and also making sure that annotation or additional text speaks directly to the insight being presented.
To tune-up your visualization, and the content it is placed within, always conduct a thorough planning meeting before hand, during which your objectives and strategies for achieving them can be outlined. After the content is drafted, examine it in depth, and ensure that it works harmoniously towards the desired ends.
Harmony and integration are the aim of the game here; each piece of your content and each component of a visualization should be treated as part of a greater whole.
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