This is the first in a series of data visualization tips for the mission-driven professional. (That’s you!) My goal is to give you the tools you need to illustrate data more effectively in your day-to-day work.
Everyone wants to use data these days: big companies sifting through big data, nonprofits wanting to put an exclamation point (or perhaps a decimal point?) on the impact they bring to the world, and everyone in between.
But wanting to use data and being able to use data effectively are vastly different things. For every jaw-dropping interactive visualization, there’s a cringey graph with 3-D chrome effects.
That’s where Hypsypops comes in. Each week I’ll post a new tip to help you make your charts and graphs shine (100% chrome-free). To get these posts delivered to your inbox, sign up for the newsletter below. And of course, you’re always welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to request a topic or offer feedback.
One at a time
With this being the first post, it seemed only appropriate that we start at Rule One. If this is the only post you read and the only tip you incorporate into your daily work, you’ll be well ahead of most graph-makers out there.
So what is Rule One?
No, I’m not pulling your chain. Find a successful graph. How many things is it trying to tell you? One.
Remember, graphs can be tricky for some audiences. Depending on who you’re trying to reach, your reader might not be math-savvy. Perhaps they’re not comfortable with graphs or, unlike your lucky self, they don’t hang out with spreadsheets all day.
You want your most graph-averse readers to understand your message as efficiently as possible – which means that layering your graph with nuance and subtext is not the way to go.
The loneliest number
So it’s one message per graph. You should probably decide what that message will be before you start drawing. Like the graph you’re about to make, your message should be clear and succinct. And if you have two messages? You’re drawing two graphs.
Next you’ll need to figure out the minimum amount of information you need to illustrate that message – essentially a minimum viable product for your graph.
Then you’re ready to go! You know what you’re trying to say and how you’re going to say it. Simply choose the appropriate type of graph and get it done.
More ≠ better.
It can be hard to pare your graph down to a single message. Sometimes we’re tempted by the siren song of “context,” wanting to add more data to give a more complete picture.
Resist that temptation.
Unless the extra information has a clear and direct relationship to the message you’re trying to convey, you should probably save it for a different graph. Remember, this graph is probably going in a report or other document – that’s where you want to wax poetic.
It’s better for your audience to fully understand one message than it is for them to partially understand many.
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