Taking time with visualisation

Becoming a more sophisticated reader

Reward vs. effort

Just because you can’t easily read a chart doesn’t mean to say it isn’t a good visualisation. There may be reasons for this. Firstly it might be a chart type with which you are unfamiliar and which might take some getting used to. So long as there is enough guidance equipment provided with the display by the designer you should expect to have put some effort in to make of what it shows. However, once you have gone through that experiential process, you should be better equipped with making sense of the same chart the next time you see it. Each subsequent occasion you have to read that chart type will become more intuitive and automatic. Don’t write off a visualisation until you know you have reason to do so. Also, sometimes a visualisation is not the best alternative to the raw data/information but the least worst: It might be still tough to read and require effort but the alternative would have been even harder (full essay, tables of indices etc.)

‘Understanding’ can come in different shapes and sizes

You might discover a major insight upon which a ground-breaking decision can be made, you might be informed sufficiently just to know more about a subject, you might even just have something confirmed/reinforced, something you already knew or suspected. Not every visualisation has to exist in some Hollywood scenario, where suddenly you discover the cure for a disease, or find £ millions in efficiency savings etc.

Overview first, details on demand

Insights can also vary between detailed value reading and ‘gist’. Sometimes a visual only intends to give you a sense of the big, the medium and the small – a hierarchy of values more than the readability of specific values.

Value added?

Don’t forget that a visual portrayal of data aims to reveal magnitudes, patterns, relationships that raw data cannot easily achieve so ask yourself: does the visual add value to the data, would it have been better left as a table of values?

Data questions answered/unanswered

Just because the aspect of this subject you are most interested in is not included in the visualisation does not make it a bad one: “This is great but I wish they’d shown it by year…”. A visualisation can only serve up so much information, so many different angles.