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    Data Visualization: How to Move from Chartjunks to Clarity

    Compiling myriad data into an annual report has never been an easy task because there are always different ways to visualize them. It can, in fact, become a daunting task to choose which display method suits the collection of data if it’s not clear what we’re trying to communicate.

    Despite a symbiotic history, design and data presentation still seem to be proverbial enemies. In fact, more often than not, visual solutions are both selected arbitrarily and designed poorly, thus creating confusion and losing credibility. These tools should, instead, communicate efficiently and provide scientific evidence for the content at hand. While design imposes no dictates on format, data presentation is bound to specific conventions.

    When done well, data presentation will complement content and provide “relevant evidence to support specific conclusions contained in the text.” Unless you’re an editor, it is not your task to decide which data are meaningful and which are not; this requires a thorough understanding of the subject matter that a designer is not required to possess in order to find an efficient way to display data.

    However, it is critical to know how to transform raw data into valuable information for your readers and to understand the difference among the different display methods. Tables work best when “conveying quantitative data, especially when the analytical task is comparison.” Graphs, on the other side, are a visual representation of “relationships between various quantities, parameters or measurable variables” that show “the exact relationship and interdependence between the various quantities that are being measured.”

    While graphs and infographics occupy a relevant place in design because of the “entertaining” nature of their visual elements, tables often receive marginal attention. Edward Tufte, pioneer in the field of data visualization, works across this divide and provides a through explanation on how to organize a good table.

    The statistician has been sifting through the elements of design for years to recast tables and turn them into an essential tool to share information. Tufte’s tables strike for their simplicity, devoid of unnecessary decoration or confusing stripes. They are characterized by abundant white space and Gill Sans (the type selected for its increased readability at a small size) and populate “the pages of every quality magazine and newspaper in the country, on assembling instructions, train schedules, menus, brochures, itemized hospital bills.” Tufte makes data visualization a breeze and gives us compelling reasons to take visual design more seriously: “many of the decisions that are made […] are determined by how […] data is compiled, stored and accessed.”

    In the information era, many factors have contributed to the overwhelming presence of chartjunks, but you don’t have to be one of those. Whether you choose a graph or a table, it doesn’t matter as long as you make clarity your goal.

    About the Author: 

    Sara Nicoletti Altimari Suttle is a graphic designer, illustrator, and editor from Naples, Italy. She has studied Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University of Naples, Italy and Graphic Design at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, U.S. 

    She has a passion for creating engaging content and bringing a lot of inspiration and experience from the editorial field into graphic design. In a very rewarding career through editorial design roles in diverse industries, she has had a measurable impact on advancing her clients’ agenda.

    Primarily focused on completely new ways of doing editorials, she excels at creating designs that generate interest while capturing the heart of the storyline. Specifically her expertise includes conceptualizing and integrating design solutions across digital, direct and print from creative brief to final delivery.

    She thrives on challenge and challenging people and always has an upbeat and collaborative attitude, which makes a good combo on Mondays.

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