Communicating information through data visualisation

Data visualisation and infographics are the visual representation of data, often used as a tool to help readers perceive knowledge beyond their natural reach.

By mapping graphic marks to data values, information can be translated into a different format, creating a new way of visual communication. At our recent Cytora Session, we discussed data visualisation, and how we can take complex data and communicate it in a simple and compelling way.  

As data becomes more essential in our daily life and work, how can we absorb the complexity from it and communicate it in a simple and compelling way? At our recent Cytora session, we brought together information designers and data journalists to discuss the issue and provide advice on how to do this in an effective way. 

1. The design process

Image 1 – Calum sharing the process of visualising data

Calum Hale, senior designer from Beyond Words Studio, shared his experience working in a data visualisation design studio, discussing the process of creating a narrative with data. 

Visualising data usually starts with a concept, summarising the stories that are going to be told. At this stage, the goal that the visuals are going to achieve is defined, along with the key information to convey to the audience. 

Calum explained that he conducts research and sketches out a lot of ideas to help shape the direction of the story. He explores different variations of charts to make sure they communicate the information clearly, without adding too much unnecessary visual complexity. After experimenting with layout, compositions, colours and typography, he then transforms the concept into a design, refines the details, tests the readability, aesthetics, and iterates the design. Then finally, he turns them into compelling visualisations that tell the stories through data.

Image 2 – Chart exploration from Beyond Words Studio

2. Details of effective visual communication

New studies on visual perception and communication reveal how people read charts, finding that people consume information differently based on the visual combinations of colours and text. 

John Burn-Murdoch, senior data journalist from the Financial Times, demonstrated what effective visual communication looked like in many different scenarios – from rapid-fire analysis of elections, to deeply-reported stories on socio-economic inequality, to interactive explorations of the challenge of tackling climate change. 

Image 3 – John sharing visual perception detail in data visualisation

From form to function, for better communicating meaningful, data-driven stories, the below points could help us to increase the effectiveness of data visualisation: 

  1. Clarity: tell stories as effectively as possible by finding the most compelling chart(s) for a story
  2. Colour: use colour intelligently to draw attention to a certain point, create semantic links and hammer home the most salient points
  3. Text: the message is critical and the text is more important than the visual content   

Image 4 – John outlining why practitioners make charts

“We understand because we see,” Alberto Cairo once wrote in his book “The Functional Art”, on the meaning of visualisation. Effective data visualisation facilitates communication. It humanises the way we convey a data-led message in a visual way. Seeing precedes understanding, and understanding things in a visual way paves the way for a better and deeper knowledge later down the line. 

If you are interested in finding more about data science, engineering, strategy and design, we welcome you to join us at a future Cytora Session to find inspiration, meet with you peers and share your insights.

Find out more about the speakers here: