Earlier today the TED website (Technology, Education, and Design) posted a wonderful talk by David McCandless entitled “The Beauty of Data Visualization,” in which he spends about 18 minutes showing the audience the ease and pleasure with which some pretty arcane, humane, and controversial material can best be learned with a combination of ‘traditional’ data and ‘infographics’ that allow visual comparisons and opportunity for pattern recognition. The presence of the infographic is not new, of course, but Mr. McCandless shows a number of ways similar data sets can show different relationships in a clear and concise manner for the layperson. We have embedded it for your viewing pleasure:
One of the points he raises is how intensely we absorb information visually, although we are conscious of stunningly little of it. Yet well designed graphics of data allow us to absorb more information – especially of a comparative nature – than merely reading the numbers. The talk gives us opportunity either simply to appreciate the efforts that go into such infographics in your favorite news magazines, or to realize that only one infographic, relating one relationship, can be just as misleading as listening to one politician’s stump speech. The old chestnut about the three lies (Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics) gets tested by this writer-turned-designer who has thought long and hard about how we strive to find patterns, and how the patterns can surprise us.
Perhaps the best quality of his presentation is how it can open up great questions about information and learning and persuading. How might your organization take advantage of graphics to present it information about fund raising? Or about the good work your charity has achieved in the economic downturn? Or about changes in your green business as new technologies are incorporated into your workflow? Considered use of such materials can mean sharing some hard numbers in an engaged manner, and engaging your audience with more information while seeming less pedagogic. As Mr. Candless stresses, our eyes are always looking for patterns. They draw us in and make a loud and busy world a bit clearer.