Tag Archives: data visualization

Data Visualization According to Tufte

The name Edward Tufte is synonymous with information graphics. What’s interesting is the Tufte has been at this design niche for a while now, but it seems he’s getting new traction as infographics become quite popular.

Frankly, before I took his class last week, I hadn’t heard of him. But then again, this is a more focused area of graphic design heavy in statistical data research and analysis. So basically it’s less about form and much more about function. Understanding the function–the message–and having a strong one at that is what drives the form. As Tufte explained it, the first intellectual task is to understand how to explain something with images. To be able to effectively produce the desired effect–with the audience–you must understand the content as the messenger. And you must be viewed as credible source by the audience.

Tufte is certainly a little too numbers heavy for me; In fact, I may have drifted off into my dreamland and closed my eyes for more than a hot second when he started getting heavy into statistics. With all due respect, Mr. Tufte, it’s not you it’s the stats. But I get his point here–you want to have strong, accurate quantitative data in order to inform your design. Besides the numbers, he made some other solid points about successful presentations–you need to have high-resolution graphics, you have to move away from bulleted PowerPoints, and you should arrive early and end early, giving your audience back some time.

One of the coolest pieces he showed us was the Popular Music infographic. He even showed an interactive version on his iPad that played music and showed a picture of the artist over the infographic design.

To date, he’s published four books–Beautiful Evidence, Envisioning Information, Visual Explanations, and the The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. To learn more about those and the courses he offers visit www.edwardtufte.com.

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Infographics are Trending

Last week I attended a unique lecture hosted by DC Web Women (@DCWW) at Ogilvy in downtown DC. It was about infographics (aka data visualization) – what they are, why clients like them, and the basic around how to create them. The distinguished speakers included Aaron Murphy of Ogilvy, Will Caroll of Geoill, and Leslie Bradshaw of Jess 3.

Aaron kicked things off by explaining that infographics make complex information more easily understood by making visual connections. He explained that there are 5 basic types:

#1. Statistical


#2. Timelines


#3. Process/Flow/System


#4. Geographic


#5. Conceptual

Next, Aaron gave an overview of the process to creating an infographic, which is similar to most communications strategies:

  1. Identify the communications goals – what’s your story
  2. Gather data – conduct research, look for patterns in the data
  3. Choose a type that best suits your communications needs
  4. Design it to make the data come to life
  5. Refine – show it to a group of 5-10 people and see if they easily comprehend the information

Geoill’s Will Caroll spoke next. He showed a number of his own infographics, including a number that he added motion to by using After Effects and Omnigraffle. The information truly does come to life when you add motion and sound, and his examples were beautiful. I don’t have an actual example, but did find some others online you might enjoy: http://www.designer-daily.com/14-visually-stunning-animated-infographics-5698

How long does one of these infographics takes to research and assemble? I posed this question to Will who said it can take up to several months depending on the amount of data involved. Not enough data can pose an equally hard problem because then you have to be creative about what to include. But if there just isn’t enough to make a sufficient infographic it might be time to recommend the client takes an alternative communications route.

Following Will, was Leslie Bradshaw, who besides being a driving force behind Jess 3 is known for being a contributing writer to Forbes magazine. Let me tell you, after hearing her talk and reading some of her articles/bio, she is a serious superstar…so impressed by her wit and drive. During her portion of the evening, she opened up by saying “infographics are in our blood!” She showed examples of how infographics go back to as early as the days of family crests…these visual stories are all around us. It’s good to be inspired by the past, but remember that these days as soon as your infographic hits the street it’s already outdated because the numbers/data keeps evolving. You have to have good data to begin, and remember to make it useful and educational. Here’s how Leslie herself summed up the event.

She showed us some infographics from her shop….

#1 Geosocial Universe (they have updated this many times already)

#2. Economic Opportunity Index (this is such an important topic for women!!!!) —

click here to watch this animated infographic: http://jess3.com/womens-economic-opportunity-index/

In closing, I am definitely on the infographics bandwagon, but still, I wonder as a new designer, where does anyone find the time? And, more importantly it is worth the time investment in the long run? Especially considering how quickly data grows. I’m wondering if there’s any push to start even further simplifying infographics, bearing in mind how we’ve become a smart phone/mobile device society….these smaller devices could never successfully display graphics this complex. My two cents!

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