The Planners Guide to Visual Thinking #8

03.11.2016

Written By: Nathalie Gil

Tags: , , , ,

Data craves a story. Here at BAMM we go the extra distance when it comes to using numbers in our analysis, choosing them as we would choose the right notes to our symphony.

Here are some tips on how to make your data ‘sing’.

If even the CERN can make music from data of its particle collisions, you can do too! Source: CERN
If even the CERN can make music from data of its particle collisions, you can do too! Source: CERN

1. You’re only human
Our brains carry several biases in the way they process information. This inevitably influences the way you go crunching your data. You may be unconsciously choosing only information easily available to you (i.e. availability heuristics), or you may chose only numbers that support your current beliefs (i.e. confirmation bias), or only the most recent studies, forgetting all the historical knowledge (i.e. recency bias).

To be aware of these flaws is the most important step. Don’t settle without questioning numbers and sources. Be a data detective: find the hidden data, try to see patterns, find many sources to the same data.

The cognitive bias cortex, a useful cheat sheet for ironing out biases in reading information
The cognitive bias codex, a useful cheat sheet for ironing out biases in reading information

2. Play with your audience’s emotions
There is a difference between data that informs, and data that provokes reactions. By making your information personal, you strike a chord with your audience.

For example, you can say that an average human life lasts 71 years. Or you can say it lasts 2 billion heartbeats. We bet you can feel the second one more.

3. Make it as simple as it can be, but not simpler
This is the most important rule of thumb when it comes to using data. As the rules of complexity go, the simpler the data, the more gravitas it carries. On the other hand, a complex set of data may be a red herring, as it can overwhelm your viewer.

Find ways that are as simple as possible for your audience to quickly and truly understand complex data. For example, both figures below take our average lifespan data. But the second one does it as simply as can be.

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-18-31-45

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-18-32-02

4. Data gives insights, visuals bring it to life
Close your right eye with your hand and look at the bunny with your left eye. Position your eyes forward until you notice the carrot disappearing from the screen. This reveals how our brain works: only what is in focus counts. Elements out of focus are not being registered by your brain, which is filling in the blanks with what it deduces is ‘probably’ there.

We bet your brain can make the carrot disappear.
We bet your brain can make the carrot disappear.

You need to let your audience know where to look. As David McCandless argues, instead of throwing your audience into a dense information jungle, help your viewers navigate through your information like a map. Here is an example on how you can visually present data about the human life span. Simple, easy to navigate, and it does make me think if I actually made good use of last week’s square.

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-18-43-48

We hope these tips can help you on your task of clearing up your data minefield, find powerful insights, and deliver in a more impactful way to clients.

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