If you follow my work, or have attended my workshops, you know that I spend a lot of time trying to help people improve their basic chart types by encouraging them to show their data, reduce chart clutter, and integrate text and graphics. I have that perspective because I work in a field in which people’s idea of data visualization is to embed a chart in an article or report and surround it with a lot of text. Little thought is typically given to how graphs can help communicate information or how different approaches can reveal patterns or communicate findings in different ways; the aesthetics are usually second-order, at best.
In her talk at Visualized, Giorgia Lupi from Accurat asked us to consider how the aesthetics of a visualization can help draw in the reader. Giorgia’s visualizations are generally exploratory, static pieces that don’t rely on standard graph types, so the aesthetics are central to help draw in the reader. So her challenge goes beyond using beautiful colors and fonts and to alterative, non-standard chart types.
Can you imagine Accurat’s “Visualizing painters’ lives” infographic in the default Excel blue-red-green color palette? Would it have worked as well had it been a series of line charts?
Giorgia views aesthetics as a means to accomplish three important tasks:
- catch interest;
- try to make people feel something; and
- trigger curiosity to understand.
It may be enough that someone says, “Oh, that graphic with the cool flowers or the one with the sleeping artists” than they remember the story or headline. Oftentimes, beautiful graphs can be too complex to convey a message, as Cedric Kiefer from Onformative reminded us by showing a network diagram. If we can combine the two—memorability of the visual with an understanding of the data—then you have something people can act upon. I’ve argued in the past that anyone can create effective data visualizations—especially people who are experienced with data—but it takes experience, courage, and experimentation to show things in new and different ways. And, as Giorgia showed us, in beautiful ways as well.