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Data journalism, Data visualisation

What is data visualisation (for a non-technical audience)?

I asked Twitter how to explain data visualisation to a non-technical audience. Is it form, or function? Is it more important now to tell a story visually than ever? This is what Twitter replied.
Do you agree – I’d love to know what you think in the comments field at the bottom of this article.
  1. @smfrogers I would ask people to look for data viz examples when they are out and about ie shopping, travelling, advertising etc
  2. @smfrogers – that function is more imp than form: dataviz is more than the flashy Infographics many ppl think it is. Story matters.
  3. @smfrogers The big one for me is always around narrating trends. e.g: 50 years of history are playing out here: projects.flowingdata.com/life-expectanc…
  4. @smfrogers Different kinds of information require different visual means of representation. A bar chart isn’t appropriate for all data.
  5. @smfrogers diversity & message … and pies not as good as biz ppl say or bad as viz ppl say (eg good for proportion yes/no)
  6. @smfrogers you can include all varieties of graphs – just draw out the ‘topline’ statistics in text. More likely to scan read/ignore charts.
  7. @smfrogers Skip preattentive. Focus on understanding your message before you try to visualize it.
  8. @smfrogers I’ve created a gallery with that purpose moebio.com/research/lifeu… it’s organized by subjects
  9. @smfrogers Shaping raw materials (information, data) to create meaning (by making trends and patterns visible to begin with)
  10. @smfrogers The strategy I use when I talk to non-tech people is to present the data first, then ask them if they see anything, then shape…
  11. @smfrogers ….the data in different ways (graphs, maps, etc.) and ask them if they NOW see what they are supposed to see
  12. @smfrogers Don’t stay in the abstract level. Present concrete examples first. Leave concepts for later
  13. @smfrogers Example I’ve been using lately. I say, I’m going to show you a map in which everything is written in Ukranian. I don’t read…
  14. @smfrogers …a word of Ukranian. If I tell you that each color represents party that won in Parliamentary elections, what’s the portrait…
  15. @smfrogers …you get of the current Ukranian landscape? A house divided: texty.org.ua/mod/datavis/ap… (blue is current Pres. who is pro-Russian..
  16. @smfrogers …and orange is opposition, that is pro-Western. Bubble size is proportional to vote difference. Audiences get it immediately
  17. @smfrogers @jschwabish Trends and patterns (geographical) >> Bubbles are appropriate. Accurate comparisons >> Bubbles aren’t appropriate
  18. @smfrogers I find Anscombe’s quartet a good example of why visualizing data is important for even basic stuff.
  19. @smfrogers An everyday example (or two) of data vis/graphic conveying information more effectively than text/other forms of communication?
  20. @smfrogers don’t use twitter data but data about stuff used in daily life so nontechnical people will also love it
  21. @albertocairo @smfrogers It’s like reading without words
    (ok, not exactly. But almost) Remember the cholera map?
  22. In response to question by @smfrogers, new twitter-only blog post by @albertocairo is quite good. #tongueincheek

About Simon Rogers

Data journalist, writer, speaker. Author of 'Facts are Sacred', from Faber & Faber and a range of infographics for children books from Candlewick. Edited and launched the Guardian Datablog. Now works for Google in California as Data Editor and is Director of the Sigma awards for data journalism.


2 thoughts on “What is data visualisation (for a non-technical audience)?

  1. In one sentence:
    Drawing on the human aptitude for visual perception, data visualisation uses static or interactive images to present insights on trends, distributions and relativities.

    Posted by locusinsight | July 3, 2013, 10:03 pm


  1. Pingback: Data Viz News [14] | Visual Loop - July 6, 2013

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About me

Data journalist, writer, speaker. Author of 'Facts are Sacred', published by Faber & Faber and a new range of infographics for children books from Candlewick. Data editor at Google, California. Formerly at Twitter, San Francisco. Created the Guardian Datablog. All opinions on this site are mine, not my employers'. Read more >>

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