“… but you cannot design a visualization without thinking!”
This is the kind of reaction I expected from my last post on the necessary urge to make a first draft. But nobody sent anything along these lines. Who knows … maybe it is just in your heads?
In my last post I argued that the number one killer trait for a visualization experts is to have a urge to create a first draft and I didn’t change my mind in the meantime. The fact is more that as usual every rule has its own counterparts, the necessary weight to put on the other side of the balance to make it work as a fine tuned instrument.
If from the one hand it is of paramount importance to see realized on your screen the images you have in your head (it’s worth repeating it: you cannot hold a visualization in your head), of equal importance is the practice of creating alternatives to your design.
It’s way to easy to jump into the first design that comes into your mind when you craft a visualization and believe this is the best one just because it’s the only one you came up with. I have seen this flaw too many times. In myself and in others as well.
And it’s hard work, psychologically speaking. The main problem is that we tend to follow our intuition and become attached to it. I am not saying that intuition is bad of course! It may well be your strongest weapon, but keeping in mind this idea of alternatives exploration is the skill that will make this weapon create great results. This whole mindset is the trick: NOT being satisfied with the first idea that comes into your mind.
But how do you combine the need to have a first draft with the one of reflecting more on alternatives?
The true answer to this question is: I don’t know. I mean, I don’t have a ready-made formula to offer to you. It’s more about intuition and mastery. As I said at the beginning the trick is to find the sweet spot and stay there. It’s not something static, you have to play with it.
But let me be a little be more concrete and offer some few classic alternatives that I often encounter in my own work. This is very far from being complete, but I don’t know … maybe you have more to suggest? I’d be happy to hear.
Some classic dilemmas I encounter often.
- Map or abstraction? When I deal with data with an inherent geographical component it is always the same. Do I use a map or I’d rather abstract away from geography in order to have more freedom in the layout? Hard to tell. It depends on a million factors.
- All in one single view or multiple views? Sometimes I tend to squeeze everything in one single view but there’s no way, it’s too much information. So the alternative is to create several views and try to tell a story through them. I am personally biased towards trying to keep everything on one view as much as possible but sometimes it is not possible.
- What do I map to what (color, size, transparency, etc.)? Oh this is the most classic I can think of! It’s there all the time. You have a number of data fields and a number of visual features. How do you decide which one goes to which feature? Despite the million words spent to find a rule there is no rule, only some few constraints.
- Links or matrices? Another big classic! You have a dataset of relationships between entities and you have to decide: link-node diagram or matrix? Mmm … disoriented? I’d bet many of you would choose link-node diagrams by default right? But there are alternatives guys. Many alternatives.
Ok that’s all folks! And what dilemmas do you have? Don’t tell me you don’t have some, I am sure you have. C’mon share them with us, leave a comment below.
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