Visual Thinking

Information Visualization

One of the most valuable visual tools that we can use to explain complex information is the diagram. Diagrams can be used to illustrate complicated concepts and they can become very complicated to understand as well. It is important to create creative and visually appealing ways to share information.

Diagrams should be easy to read, understand and follow.

Is a picture really worth a thousand words? Napoleon Bonaparte, once said “Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours” this means – a good sketch is better than a long speech! A very complex idea can be conveyed with a diagram aptly said by the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”. However, the more complex and unfamiliar the information, the concepts, and ideas which it involves, the less likely are people to understand it, irrespective of the particular type of diagram used.

Seeing & Remembering

Visual communication is more powerful than verbal communication. People can learn and retain information visually better than that was provided verbally.

There is a big connection between seeing and remembering. Visual interpretations of information in the form of simple yet powerful such as diagrams, tables, graphs, charts or any other free form that can convey the message of what “it means” without someone providing an explanation. Information visualization coupled with strong verbal interpretations can create a new dimension to the information that is being presented.

Good infographics can illustrate ideas that might take pages to explain in writing. They function as visual shorthand, clarifying relationships with a degree of immediacy and impact text just can’t offer. Effective graphics can be created for many types of information, but they are best suited for showing comparisons, structures, and processes (Rebecca Hume, BigDuckNyc.com).

Figuring out what type of infographic is right for a project typically requires three steps:

  • Know the story you want to tell.
  • Find the information that best tells the story
  • Determine the form that most clearly displays that information.

The type of information you settle on will help determine the form of your final infographic. If you’re showing how parts of a whole relate, a pie chart or tree map can do the job; when comparing quantities you may want to try a bar graph, bubble chart, or pictograph; for changes over time, a timeline or area graph can work well.

Importance of Visualization

Dr. Colin Ware of the University of New Hampshire expertly explains the importance of visualization and how it works:

Why should we be interested in visualization? Because the human visual system is a pattern seeker of enormous power and subtlety. The eye and the visual cortex of the brain form a massively parallel processor that provides the highest-bandwidth channel into human cognitive centers. At higher levels of processing, perception and cognition are closely interrelated, which is the reason why the words ‘understanding’ and ‘seeing’ are synonymous. However, the visual system has its own rules. We can easily see patterns presented in certain ways, but if they are presented in other ways, they become invisible…The more general point is that when data is presented in certain ways, the patterns can be readily perceived. If we can understand how perception works, our knowledge can be translated into rules for displaying information. Following perception based rules, we can present our data in such a way that the important and informative patterns stand out. If we disobey the rules, our data will be incomprehensible or misleading. (Information Visualization, Second Edition, Colin Ware, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2004, page xxi)