Friday, January 8, 2010

Graphic Illusions- How Graphics can be Made to Change Reality

At any time in our lives, especially today, we have to give some bad news about numbers. When you have to give bad news, use a pie chart. It hides the details and and makes it difficult for the reader to grasp how bad the information is. If the bad news is something you want to be known then use a bar chart. The eye can distinguish between the difference in what is represented, unlike a pie chart. This may be why people in government use pie charts for budgets so consistently.

Incorporating graphs is a necessity for most businesses. Showing market dominance and growth as well as how costs have been contained leads to interest by investors. Having someone who knows the best method for communicating your position is equally important.

Howard Wainer has twelve rules for displaying information badly:
1. Show as little data as possible
2. Hide what data you do show
3. Ignore the visual metaphor
4. Only order matters
5. Graph data out of context
6. Change scales in mid-axis
7. Emphasize the trivial
8. Jiggle the baseline
9. Alabama first
10. Label illegibly, incompletely, incorrectly, and ambiguously
11. More is murkier
12. If it has been done well in the past, think of a new way to do it

Personally, I like number nine the most. Besides its humor, alphabetical order rarely has relevance to the data being presented. You may be thinking that these are rules without any context. You can always look them up in his book Visual Revelations. Most of us want to convey the truth. But if the truth is bad then the data is often displayed badly.

With graphic design the customer is always right and they always get what they want. That is why it is so important for us to ask questions and find out exactly what the customer is trying to convey. There is nothing worse then conveying the wrong message.

At the center of bad graphics is the illusion that is given to the eye. There are a number of tricks on the internet to show how the eye can be fooled. These manipulations are a part of what can make us feel better about a bad situation. Something as minor as changing the color scheme along a gradient can drastically change how we interpret a figure.

Graphic design isn't always about art. Today's designers have to be versatile and flexible. Kate Boesch Design is a unique firm that gets this. We offer a wide variety of services to convey your message. Check us out and you'll see our talent is no illusion.

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