HBR released an article “What Makes the Best Infographics so Convincing?” by Andrea Ovans. It makes a very good read and does identify some important points.
1. Have good background content
The article quotes Gareth Cook saying that the most compelling infographics mine relationships among overlooked variables to tell you something unexpected and get you thinking. In order words, you’ve got to have a good story before you can work out some good illustration of the story.
2. Cut away the clutter.
Learning from the negative, Cook comments that the least effect info graphics overwhelm us with data and confuse us. He lists the example of nutrition labels (well.. i don’t know whether you consider them as infographics). The much improved example comes from Better Food Label, which has redesigned nutrition labels and has cut the clutter into 3 main dimensions – nutrition, foodness and welfare, and then uses a colour scheme to give the consumer and instant visual grading. I particularly like the “foodness” dimension (how much of the food resembles its original form) consider how everyone is concerned about avoiding processed food and eating clean nowadays.
A redesigned and more relevant food label?
3. Don’t forget the whimsy.
Infographics are to communicate and to persuade – humor opens people up and makes them more willing to hear messages. It’s like trying to get a conversation up – stand up comedians are best at that. Have fun communicating!
4. Be honest.
Allow the viewers to have the sense that they’re free to move around and find their own relationships. The article mentions that when viewers are allowed that freedom, they’ll have the confidence that you really are giving them the whole story.
Read an article on the psychology of informational dashboards by Shilpi Choudhury today. In it, she summarises the fundamental reasons why humans crave for information summarised on dashboards:
 Humans have a natural desire to be in control.
 Humans have a notoriously short short term memory.
 Humans desire to cut down clutter.
I guess being the pragmatist I am, the next question that naturally comes to my mind is then: How do we create appealing, effective dashboards?
Some things came up to mind:
Reducing cognitive clutter
Shilpi cites an article by Jakob Nielsen and mentions that we typically can only remember up to 7 distinct chunks of information in our short term memory, and that this information fades in about 20 seconds. What this suggests to me is that we can’t exactly perform cognitive processes involving more than 7 distinct pieces of information — so excel sheets can actually hurt more than help.
Here’s where presenting data visually becomes important – graphs, info-graphics and the likes all serve to reduce the cognitive load such that we can absorb, understand and memorise (short term) more data in order to perform more complex analysis and trending, in effect allowing us to see the forest for the trees easily.
[Likewise in communications, people tire when seeing too many pieces of information/data and would much rather welcome an image]
Of course, not all info-graphics were created equally. The well crafted info-graphic utilises natural psychologically distinct visual attributes like colour, size, density, shape (the gestalt principles!) in order to compress information and hence convey more information to the viewer at a quick glance.
Timely Reminders, Proper Organisation
A second point that would make dashboards useful would be the way it can coordinate and inform users when and where intervention is needed. There should be flexibility for intervention rules to be set in order for the dashboard to prove valuable to the user, whose requirements might change across time.
Finally, a proper dashboard calls for proper organisation of data – and this honestly, shouldn’t be done at the level of the dashboard, but rather at the data architecture level. Ultimately a dashboard is meant for the display and manipulation of data that has been captured and organised within a system – if the system has a crappy data architecture, then the dashboard is probably not going to be any bit helpful.