One major aspect of what we do as graphic designers, is organize and visualize data in an understandable and effective way. Charts, graphs, tables, and infographics can be a very impactful addition to your report or presentation if they are done well. Just because the data is complex, the visual depiction of it doesn’t have to be. The most important goal is for the information to remain readable and comprehensible, while in graphic form.
Here are four basic principles guide us when designing for data
1. Format: How will you display the data?
Chart? Graph? Table? An infographic? Take a close look at the material and identify what it is relating. Charts and graphs illustrate correlations between sets of data via lines, bars, or other visual representations. Tables, with rows and columns, are typically used to display comparison in values. Infographic design is a visualization of a story abundant in data, designed to be easily and quickly read. In general, a chart or graph is going to be graphic, a table is going to be more text based, and an infographic is a combination of charts, graphics, and text.
2. Focus: Amplify the data-ink ratio
“Above all else, show the data.” – Edward R. Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (2001)
Information visualization expert, Edward Tufte, defines the data-ink ratio as the ratio of data ink to total ink used to print the graphic. By eliminating as much non-data ink as possible, we maximize this ratio. Extraneous elements, such as background grids and tick lines, should be removed or just visible enough to serve their purpose but not detract from the relevant information.
3. Hierarchy: Thoughtfully highlight
Sometimes, it’s helpful to draw out a particular piece of data by highlighting it. In order for it to truly stand out, make sure the other elements is not competing visually. Using a pop color to highlight a particular detail is most effective when the comparison data is displayed in more muted colors. If all of the bars are of equal color strength, then there is no particular emphasis, which may fine in many casesas well..
4. Simplify: Avoid chart junk
When the chart or graph has a lot of superfluous labels or decoration, this is called chart junk; and it should be avoided at all costs in order to design successfully. This extra “stuff” is not informative, but rather muddling for the viewer. Show the data.
Sometimes we are provided charts that are unsuccessful or underwhelming in conveying the material, so that we may redesign them and elevate the information. This may result in a simple refresh of the chart or the information may transform into an infographic design. Use the four principles above, whether it’s a new or redesign, to help guide the way.