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Posted on March 12th, 2012 by
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent Van Gogh
With the ever increasing use of information design in enterprise and media there is an abundant over-sourcing of visualization examples. While many UX firms have grasped the fundamentals of information design, many still have difficulties in visualizing information for their stakeholders. In most cases if not all, the goal of data visualization is to provide a clear, concise visual that concurrently assists the communication of analysis. Clients rely on this dual-modal approach when trying to decipher UI models and statistical charts. However, there seems to be lack of an information design foundation that may assist in the visual design approaches within UX research. This post will discuss various principles and theories of information design.
“Good design, then, is not about making dull numbers somehow become magically exhilarating, it is about picking the right numbers in the first place. It’s about data that matters to you” (Dona Wong).
One principle quite often overlooked during the visualization process of research data is the understanding of the learning styles of (stakeholders) receivers of the report analysis. Who will attend that presentation meeting? What is your perception of their learning styles. Attempting to answer these questions may give valuable insight as to how to approach the visualization of the data. The Dunn and Dunn Learning Style Model describes three main styles of learning approaches. These approaches are described as Visual, Auditory/Verbal and Kinesthetic/Tactile. A person may undertake one or more of these styles at a given time.
Visual: Relate most effectively to visual displays like written information, notes, diagrams and pictures. Visual learners often prefer to take detailed notes to absorb information and learn best by writing down key points and visualizing what they learn.
Auditory/Verbal: Would rather listen to a lecture than read material in a text book. They are good at making speeches and presentations.
Kinesthetic/Tactile: They learn though moving, doing and touching.
While this model is not necessarily a ‘visual’ approach to design representation, it does give an encompassing view of the process of visualization and the importance of introducing receivers of the information into the planning of the design. Here is a link to test your own learning style: http://bit.ly/A5hfPf
The LATCH model is another primary method of understanding data that can help in the visualization of information. LATCH (Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, Hierarchy) was proposed by Richard Saul Wurman as the five main ways of organizing information. Here is a motion graphics video describing the process: http://bit.ly/xhT6wx For a communication designer in UX, LATCH provides an effective method of synthesizing information into concise chunks.
Location: Information based on physical geography. Some obvious examples are maps, travel guides but could also be participant location. Location should be used when physical connections are important to understanding.
Alphabet: This uses alphabetical organization bases content structure on letter sequence. Some examples would be dictionaries, telephone books, etc. This method structure works best when looking for a structure that will be broadly familiar to a diverse audience or when placing very specific content in a large pool of information.
Time: This works well when users need to understand a sequence of events. Some examples include calendars, arrival and departure boards.
Category: Structures group information with similar features or attributes such as in e-commerce websites and scientific classifications. Use this structure when you would like to enhance obvious connections between informations sets.
Hierarchy: Organizes information be measure (small to large) or by perceived importance. Use hierarchy to assign weight or value to order of information.
“Hierarchical variables can be expressed by means of size and intensity, and distinguishing variables by means of colour and form.”(Paul Mijkenaar)
Another visual theory used in information design is Cleveland’s task model.
In his book “Visualize This” Nathan Yau provides an excellent resource of data visualization. Here are a couple of key points to watch out for:
While there are many principles to help inform the data visualization process, there is not one ‘best’ method. It is important however to gain and and understanding of these diverse sets to help design communication artifacts in the most engaging, relevant and informative manner. Next post on the use of the Grid and typography 101 in report design.