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Transforming Data into a Visual Language

Posted on July 27, 2018 by Editor

Recognising that in today’s visual age, elegant graphics can transform data into a powerful language, the Financial Times appointed Alan Smith as their first Data Visualisation Editor.

This month, at the ECB Statistics Conference, Smith shared the FT’s strategy and guidelines for a visual vocabulary which will help your data tell a story rich in insight.

His top tips?

Aim for impact 
A memorable graphic can take on a life of its own, even altering the course of national debate. A chart with impact is visually communicative – not merely displaying the data but interpreting it. To maximize the impact of your charts, be selective, and choose only those with a clear, illuminating message.

Don’t underestimate your audience 
Smith encourages us to disregard the idea that a chart ‘has to be simple and understandable in five seconds’: while quickly compresible charts have their place, by utilising complicated graphs Smith ‘allowed the audience to see more data and depth,’ to which ‘the response was phenomenal.’

Design with the data
Don’t lose the message in search of a memorable visual. Smith emphasises the importance of visual grammar; ‘a framework of designing with data, rather than around data.’ If spatiality, for example, isn’t part of your story, don’t represent the data on a map. The Financial Times have put together a visual vocabulary guide to help you choose the right chart for your data.

Smith’s approach to speaking with data is having an impact, not least in a twitter storm that has seen a FT animated graphic on income distribution become something of a political football.

This is a conference talk that’s well worth a few minutes of your time.


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