The 6 Principles of Quality Data Visualizations (Introduction)

90% of the world’s data has been created in the past 2 years. Big data is here; and it is here to stay.

And along with this increase in the world’s data, there has been a commensurate increase in the demand to communicate it. Here is where data visualizations come in.

Data visualizations are simply visual representations of data. These include charts, maps, graphs, etc. The primary reason to visualize data is to make your analyses more intuitive to the audience. A quality visualization can also make or break a presentation. I’ve seen it happen. Clunky graphs with hard-to-read labels can leave the audience confused, whereas a crisp, fluent display can really stand out and become memorable. There is even some evidence that neuroscience findings are considered more believable if they are represented on a colorful image of a brain compared to just shown in a table of statistical results.

In a series of upcoming blog entries, I am going to examine 6 fundamental principles behind great data visualizations. These principles are based on Edward Tufte’s book Beautiful Evidence (which I – along with many others – highly recommend). If you follow these principles, you will be making outstanding visualizations in no time!

In the next entry, I will focus on the first of these 6 principles: namely, that a good visual display should show comparisons, contrasts, and/or differences.

In the entry I will draw a bit from my background in perceptual psychology and cognition. I will first focus on the underlying reasons behind why this technique is effective, and then I will demonstrate how to use this technique to make effective visualizations.

Stay tuned!


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