The Importance of Good Data Visualization

November 3, 2013

A post at Ushahidi’s blog titled, “With Data, Never Underestimate the Power of a Pretty Picture” reminds us how important the arrangement of data into a palatable format can be. The write-up begins:

“There is power in data. Data can tell important stories, from which politicians are corrupt to which corporations are breaking the law. However, like any good story its power is dependent on being compelling to audiences — being a page-turner.”

Writer Chris R. Albon illustrates the point with two tables. The first presents real data in a bare-bones format that can only be read by those with some basic data science training. I, for one, cannot make heads or tails of it. The second is a polished presentation of gibberish; it really looks quite nice. Albon explains:

“The simple fact is that if both the table and image were placed on the desks of policymakers, journalists, business leaders, and politicians, it would undoubtedly be the image that interested them — that enticed them to examine it and kept their attention all the way through. The image’s ability to be compelling means that at the end of the day, it is going have a much stronger chance of having a real impact.”

Of course, the piece concludes by noting that Ushahidi is the place to go for all your data-visualization needs. (There are others out there.) The self-promotion, however, does not undercut the message: readers are much more likely to pay attention to, and understand, data if it is presented in a well-designed graphic.

Cynthia Murrell, November 03, 2013

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