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Keeping it Simple in the Name of Clarity

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Wow. I took a brief hiatus during the winter break and work came back strong this January. Even so, I’ve been reacquainting myself with and growing my Twitterverse. Just yesterday, I followed both Stephanie Evergreen and Gavin McMahon after a great webinar on mistakes people often make when visualizing data. It was a really well designed and informative talk and I’m super psyched that I got in at all because it filled up quickly and their going to have to do another one (On January 23rd, if you’re interested). But I wanted to take the opportunity to write a bit about the webinar because I was struck by a couple of things.

1. Infographics?!

Stephanie and Gavin both (jokingly) called out our obsession with infographics coupled with our general lack of design savvy for prompting us to add many unnecessary graphics, colors, and even chart types to our presentations in the desire to look pretty. The problem is that these things often get in the way of the actual point we’re trying to make.

2. Back to Basics

While they obviously aren’t against other chart and graph types, the webinar beautifully illustrated that simply but powerfully designed line and bar charts can be key in actually visualizing data for people in a way that lets them easily understand it and get down to the work of asking questions. They highlighted wonderful tips such as using dotted lines or lightness to visually separate projected data from firm, concrete collected data; using color to highlight data of interest on both line and bar charts; ensuring that we (here in the West, at least) go left to right with our data to allow for understanding at a glance; and keeping our data “truthy” (I love that word) by not playing around with numbers and graph axes.

As someone who only fairly recently boarded the design train and is continuing to discover the importance of information design, I know all too well how easy it is to want to emulate the gorgeous infographics out there without having a handle on the fundamentals of making data easy to understand. These tips for keeping it simple with an eye on making things as easy to understand as possible are some that I’ll be carrying around with me for a good while.

Enjoy the Slideshare below and be sure to sign up for the next webinar if you’re interested in information design and data visualization.

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