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Information Overload: Creating Order with Data Design

Posted by
Marcy Rye
Jul 3, 2017 1:13:00 PM

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Data design can take on many forms, including diagrams, charts, motion graphics and infographics, just to name a few. They can be static, interactive, stand-alone or integrated into stories. Whatever the method, data design is a tool to help engage, inspire and inform audiences. Data design is a way to present information in a structured way to effectively communicate a message with clarity and efficiency.

Why Communicate Visually?

Don’t just tell when you can show. Being a visual species, humans cannot easily look at a table of numbers and quickly draw conclusions. However, take those same numbers and visually represent them, our minds can quickly begin to understand patterns and make meaningful inferences. Diagrams, graphics and visualizations help greatly in our ability to understand information being presented. 

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Women’s World Banking Annual Report

Seeing Leads to Understanding

Designers have an obligation to present visual truth. It’s important visualizations are clear in the messages they convey and use appropriate design forms as to not mislead audiences. Data design should engage readers and capture audience attention, in an experiential way. Great data design is not only clear and accurate, but also highly memorable.

“At the intersection of art and algorithm, data visualization schematically abstracts information to bring about a deeper understanding of the data, wrapping it in an element of awe.”

-Maria Popova, Stories for the Information Age, Businessweek

Providing Insight and Clarity

Information design is not just about simplifying. The best designs can retain the complexity of the subject matter, and refine it at the same time. Make sure your subject matter will be clarified through your design approach. The best information designs act as a guide for audiences, leading them to the most interesting parts of the story, while also allowing deeper investigation according to their interests or based on their own particular perspective.

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The Solutions Project Annual Report

Knowing Your Audience

Your audience must be known and well-considered before deciding how you want to present your data. User centered design involves nonprofit organizations putting themselves in a visitor’s shoes, understanding their goals, emotions, motivations and problems. Organizations have a better ability to inform and leave an impression on audiences with visuals by taking the time to better understand them. It’s no surprise that organizations that adopt empathic design strategies see much greater results in communicating their message. Their visitors experience more seamless interactions and are left with a better understanding of the organization.

Communicating Honestly

There should be a reason you’ve chosen a particular visual language to communicate your message. Data design should communicate your message with honesty and integrity - including accurate depictions of data, not leading audiences to misinformed conclusions with exaggerated graphic representations. Telling a good story, backed by accessible and easily understood date, is a powerful method to develop interest, grow support and build trust with your audience. Data designs shouldn’t be created for the sake of incorporating aesthetically-pleasing graphics on your website. There are many data designs that are well-designed, but aren’t necessarily speaking an important message or communicating data effectively. Your data design should say and clarify something that simply “telling” could not accomplish.

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Topics: data design