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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 new range of infographics for children books from Candlewick. Edited and launched the Guardian Datablog. Now works for Google in California as Data Editor


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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