Good art hangs on walls; great art spurs conversation.
Infographics are everywhere. So, too, are charts, graphs, maps and all manner of data visualizations used by companies to predict futures and make decisions.
The problem? Many are created, circulated and re-circulated without any real impact. Employees look but aren’t engaged – visualizations hang on walls but don’t prompt discussion.
Data Is Beautiful
That’s the name of a compelling Reddit thread containing some of the best data visualizations created this year. All the usual suspects are here but there’s a subtle difference – somehow, they transcend average to become art.
Consider this smoke trail of ship-log entries from the 18th and 19th centuries.
It contains a wealth of useful data regarding the evolution of trade routes as the upstart United States came to rival England. But it’s compelling because the information requires the user to engage with the piece rather than simply observe it. There’s no handy list of dates or cargo manifests, no legend to speak of – instead, data speaks for itself in a way that demands attention.
Show and Tell
The Harvard Business Review makes the case for this kind of data narrative, noting that visualization designers must “find the story that the data supports.” Part of the story comes from knowing your audience: Who is the visualization for, and what kind of information do they already possess? Are they biased? Unbiased? Are they decision-makers or stakeholders?
But this is just the first step. Even well-designed and effectively curated visualizations fall flat if they fail to trigger some kind of emotional reaction.
Accomplishing this task starts with a counterintuitive idea: leave some data out. Nothing crucial, but enough that observers need to become active participants if they want to understand – they must dig deeper to uncover the whole story. Visualizations must also be inherently evocative – shape and color play critical roles in viewer engagement.
For companies to effectively leverage the vast amounts of data they create there’s an emerging need for “data journalists,” storytellers who provide unbiased views of what’s happening behind the scenes.
The art of data visualization is creating pictures that flesh out this view and – rather than providing easy answers – prompt viewers to discuss, analyze and ultimately understand.