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Chart Wars: The Steering Power of Data Visualization

Data-washing, why designers are not to be messed with, and how seeing really is believing.

It’s no secret we’re big proponents of data visualization as an effective and intuitive tool for making sense of the increasing amount of information we’re being bombarded with. But beyond its clarifying, sense-making powers, data viz also has the incredible capacity to frame concepts and package ideas in very controlled ways — which can be a good thing when trying to succinctly communicate overwhelming information about, say, the housing crisis, but it can also be rather questionable when used to manipulate people’s understanding of an issue.

This excellent short talk by TargetPoint’s VP and Director of Research, Alex Lundry, at Ignite DC explains why we naturally gravitate to visual communication channels and what power data viz holds as a vehicle for subjective messaging in political communication.

Vision is our most dominant sense. It takes up 50% of our brain’s resources. And despite the visual nature of text, pictures are actually a superior and more efficient delivery mechanism for information. In neurology, this is called the ‘pictorial superiority effect’ […] If I present information to you orally, you’ll probably only remember about 10% 72 hours after exposure, but if I add a picture, recall soars to 65%. So we are hard-wired to find visualization more compelling than a spreadsheet, a speech of a memo.

So if there’s one takeaway for your day-to-day here, be wary of what we like to call data-washing — the selective and manipulated framing of information aimed at steering your understanding of it in a specific direction. When things are this visual, it’s all the harder to look for the “fine print” — but more often than not, there is one.

For a fantastic related read, see How To Lie With Statistics.

via Information Aesthetics

Published January 15, 2010




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