Visual story-telling

blog_image_data_viz_1.jpgThere are a lot of interesting info graphics nowadays floating on the web (and lots of books on it too). I recently read something interesting on how data visualization relates to textual visualization, and how it’s taken in by the brain. Here’s what Alex Lundry, Director of Research at TargetPoint’s VP, says in a presentation called Chart Wars: The Political Power of Data Visualization:

“Vision is our most dominant sense. It takes up 50% of our brain’s resources. And despite the visual nature of text, pictures are actually a superior and more efficient delivery mechanism for information. In neurology, this is called the ‘pictorial superiority effect’ […] If I present information to you orally, you’ll probably only remember about 10% 72 hours after exposure, but if I add a picture, recall soars to 65%. So we are hard-wired to find visualization more compelling than a spreadsheet, a speech or a memo.”

Because of the Pictorial Superiority Effect (what a great “brainy” name) it’s easy to understand why telling a story through images is in some ways more effective. Evidently, the marketing industry knows this since long ago, given the truck load of imagery used to communicate anything, anywhere, all the time. It’s a powerful tool.

Going back to info graphics: I find that some are clearer than others. As I observe, I see that some let the brain focus on one or few ideas, and meaning can be grasped quickly. Others become a mesh of information, almost in an artful manner, and that’s how perhaps one perceives the meaning. Certain graphs will by nature more complex than others (like train schedules). But for the graphs that need to convey information clearly, I think a good rule of thumb could be: if it’s getting too crowded or complex, break the ideas up into different graphs (just like chapters are separated in a book).

And that’s one way to tell a story: with separate diagrams (or images); the information being delivered a bit at a time, in easily digestible portions. This could engage viewers promptly and keep them engaged longer—and more deeply (maybe to the point they want to act on it). In other words, maybe presenting the visitor with clear and easy information which they can grasp quickly (understand, thus establish a connection with it) will (hopefully) make them “feel ready” for more—or confident that the experience will continue to be meaningful to them.

Of course, we don’t want out viewers to be bored, which usually means they have been presented with something they perceive as not challenging or new—therefore, they resist the engagement (which in the internet might mean quitting that page/site). The trick here is to find the balance between simple and interesting. It’s hard, but worth the effort in my opinion. If we think about it, any of us probably had had an experience like that, that is dosed just right: a bit of familiar, a bit of excitement; safe and new at the same time. We don’t perceive it as a high or as a low; it’s just perfect, because we apprehend it as genuine. (And that’s another post, on genuine experiences).

Posted by on October 27, 2011 with no comments yet

Leave a comment