10 data visualization tips

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has just completed a survey of the use of data visualization techniques to better communicate the results of the development research it supports. They looked at 330 docments (including academic reports, project reports, media publications, etc.) and the good news is that 48% of them included some form of data visualization. The not so good news was that “the majority of this visualization-use was focused on the insertion of charts and graphs into publications or presentation slides. There were very few examples of advanced visualizations, and none of the documents demonstrated truly innovative or ground-breaking design use.”

In addition to the study, IDRC also produced a short publication with 10 useful tips for data visualization. All the documents are available in English and French and the 10 Data Visualization Tips is also available in Spanish as 10 Sugerencias para la visualización de datos.

One of the visualizations evaluated was our interactive schematic visualization of the Impact 2.0 iGuide. It was done in Flash, which the report’s author, Amanda Cox, describes as “a poor way to display large amounts of text”. Commenting more specifically on the iGuide’s example, Cox says, “if you are interested in the entire guide it is difficult to remember which sections you have already visited. If you are looking for a specific piece of information, it’s not easy to copy it to your own notes, to share a particular section with a co-worker or to search the text for key words.” She adds: “Without strong links between the different sections of the guide, a well-designed list is much easier to browse and skim.”

Point taken. In our defense, however, the particular piece of Flash was not really intended as a navigation tool and we never intended the iGuide to be read cover to cover like a book. The iGuide is a wiki and its hyperlinked table of contents is more suitable for navigating its contents.

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