manner in which complex statistical data is presented can have
a profound effect on viewers when a precise method is used.
Instead of presenting a confusing and overwhelming mass of numbers
and lines, advertisers can use design clarity to their advantage.
Communication is possible only when confusion is removed.
Professor Emeritus at Yale University, Edward R. Tufte, has
taught courses in statistical evidence, information design,
and interface design. He has authored award winning books on
the subject in addition to his teaching.
Two key principles of communicating complex information
clearly are visual effectiveness and scientific accuracy. For
example, visual comparisons are essential. Viewers must to be
able to answer the question, "Compared with what?"
upon immediate inspection of an information display. The data
must present apparent causality, or a cause and effect relationship,
in order for the reader to draw pertinent conclusions. Ideally,
the reader must also be able to see an entire visual story unfold
in one image. To do this, the information must contain more
than one or two variables and must integrate words, numbers,
and images into one cohesive idea. In addition, the information
should be presented in a single "eye span" so that
the viewer is not required to maintain one set of data in mind
in order to compare it to a separate set of data. All conclusions
should be evident upon initial viewing.
One necessary objective of data presentation is establishing
credibility. Documenting displays is imperative to verifying
authenticity and reinforcing the impact of the data. The purpose
of good design is to be "invisible." That is, the
design of the display must never overshadow the data itself.
Design always must serve the content. There is no place in Tufte's
world for "design for design's sake." As he is fond
of saying, "Good design is clear thinking made visible."
For information display, it is more important to be accurate
An audience is more apt to remember your information when presented
with a clear, visual display. Does your data confuse or clarify
what you are trying to say?
Books by Edward R. Tufte, which we highly recommend, include
Envisioning Information, The Visual Display of Quantitative
Information, and Visual Explanations.
Probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn, this
map by Charles Joseph Minard portrays the losses suffered
by Napoleon's army in the Russian campaign of 1812. Beginning
at the Polish-Russian border, the thick band shows the size
of the army at each position. The path of Napoleon's retreat
from Moscow in the bitterly cold winter is depicted by the
dark lower band, which is tied to temperature and time scales.
Available at www.edwardtufte.com.
Good design is "invisible." What you see is the
and interesting information, not the style.