Data Visualization and Influence (Part 2) – examples and links

by Enrico on May 11, 2011

in Guides,Thoughts

This is a follow-up post on how visualization can influence people. If you are reading this for the first time, the whole thing originated from a quite candid post of mine, inspired by a question I got during one of my talks: “Can visualization influence people? I mean can we prove it?“. The post seemed to touch the right nerve and quite some people commented on it with interesting suggestions and interpretations. I summarized these ideas in a follow-up post: “Data Visualization and Influence (Part 1)” and since I felt there could be more to say I split it into two parts. Here we are with the second part.

After thinking about it for a while I realized that the best way to give more substance to the topic was to summarize all the interesting pointers you sent in your comments. So I collected a whole list of links. I am sure you will be at least as inspired as I have been when I read all of them in sequence. I think there is a whole wealth of information, check it out … and some links are funny too! Like the one that demonstrates that “people who had just gone up an escalator were twice as likely to give to charity as people approached after travelling downwards! (thank @DaveAnalyst for the link!)

Examples of influential visualizations

John Snow’s Cholera Map.
“… convinced Whitehead that the Broad Street pump was the source of the local infections. Whitehead then joined with Snow in tracking the contamination to a faulty cesspool and the outbreak’s index case.”

john snow's cholera map

Florence Nightingale’s Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East.
“She convinced military authorities, Parliament and Queen Victoria to carry out her reforms. In recognition of her statistical ability, she became the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society in 1859. Her insistence on good sanitation, fresh air and public health saved thousands of lives, both for soldiers and civilians, on battlefields and in hospitals.”

Florence Nightingale Cause of Mortality

Jamie Oliver’s wheelbarrow full of sugar (from about 13:00 minutes in)
Technically not a visualization in the standard format. But I think it’s a good and inspiring example anyways. I am sure Jamie Oliver convinced with this lots of people how crazy the volume of sugar in our societies is.

Jamie Oliver

Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth
Maybe this one does not even need a comment. I don’t know how many people have been convinced after this video full of graphics that climate change is a serious thing, but for sure we cannot say that it generated indifference. This work had for good or bad a strong influence.

An Inconvenient Truth

More examples?

Please if you have more examples to suggest write a comment below or send me a message. I’ll try to keep an updated list of influential visualizations. This will be useful for me and you all when talking with someone about influential visualizations as we will have some examples ready to be shown right away.

Related references suggested by the readers

- “This report from HP contains some promising evidence, suggesting significantly greater retention through visual learning” (@DaveAnalyst): The Power of Visual Communication (HP report)

- “Google Scholar nets the most promising hit for “visualization persuasion” in the paper of Sheppard, Shaw, Flanders and Burch about using visualization to combat climate change.” (jakob): Can Visualisation Save the World? (Research Paper)

- “Seems your issue is pointing more towards “knowledge visualization”, than true infovis” (infosthetics): Learning from Architects: The Difference between Knowledge Visualization and Information Visualization (Paper)

- “Great topic Enrico, I’ve posted my thoughts in a blog post here” (Andy Kirk): Discussion: Can visualisation influence people? Can we prove it? (Blog Post)

- “… we recently started aiming at understanding how visualisation influence business decision makers.” (Zied M. Ouertani): Service Performance Information (Web Page)

- “… I guess it is useful to address the notion of opinion shaping … I wrote a blog post exploring this a few months ago” (Anthony Hamelle): Shaping Opinions (Blog Post)

- “I’m a bit skeptical about the HP paper that someone linked to; it leans rather heavily on the questionable assertion that we remember 80% of what we see and do …” (Chris Atherton): Forgetting Curve (Wikipedia Page)

- “We collect these stories on a dedicated website so that people can have a look at the variety of influence and impact that visualization has had (or still has).” (Petra Isemberg): Discovery Exibition (Web Page)

- “It’s clear that human faces, in situational images, can lead to emotional contagion … Can data visualization alone stimulate that level of empathy?” (Tom G.): Is emotional contagion special? An fMRI study on neural systems for affective and cognitive empathy (Research Paper)

- “Your comments reminded me of a crucial aspect which is the skills or qualities of the presenter … I remember Robertson et al. discussing this issue in their Effectiveness of animation in trend visualization.” (Enrico): Effectiveness of animation in trend visualization (Research Paper)

- “Enrico, a bit late to the party, but I remember Stephen Few asked a similar question … And I wrote a provocative post.” (Jorge Camoes): True Stories about the Benefits of Data Visualization (Blog Post) & Is Data Visualization Useful? You’ll Have to Prove It (Blog Post)

- “Then again, if you just want to find out “what works” rather than “why” at first, there might be a starting point in creating narratives … The power of narratives to sway people is well documented” (jakob): Couch it in a Narrative (Blog Post)

- “Persuading people is certainly a complex issue. One of my favourite examples is an experiment that found that people who had just gone up an escalator were twice as likely to give to charity as people approached after travelling downwards!” (@DaveAnalyst): Why Getting ‘High’ Increases Acts of Charity

- “With regards to visual persuasion, there’s a strong body of evidence that some people are ‘visual learners’ while others respond more to ‘auditory’ or ‘doing’” (@DaveAnalyst): Learning Styles: Fleming’s VAK/VARK model

This concludes this mini-series on visualization and influence. I thank you all again for posting so many good comments and links! I hope this will continue to inspire you all. Please don’t forget to retweet or comment if you find it useful and interesting.

  • Jan Willem Tulp

    These examples raised a question with me, especially the first 2: is it the visualization that is influential, or is it the data that the visualization shows just very important? Focusing on the first 2 visualizations, they deal with data on life and death, and using data visualization as an effective means to get insight in the data has definitely an effect in these cases, but would these visualizations be considered very influential if the data that has been visualized was not very important or relevant?

    I guess the same goes for Al Gore: it’s also very much the story he tells, where he uses visualization to support his story, as a means to give insight in highly important and relevant data. But in the picture you’ve added, he’s actually showing just a line graph (which could be very influential), but what really made this moment remarkable is that he had to use an elevator to point at the highest peak of the graph (truly a ‘made to stick’ moment (read the book by the Heath brothers if you haven’t, highly recommended).

    I’m not saying that these visualizations are not influential, but I wonder if the importance and relevance of the data itself, and the context that the visualization is being used in, make these visualizations appear influential.

    • Enrico

      Jan, this is exactly the problem I had in mind. I think I mentioned it in one of my posts. Sure, the fact that data is there, behind the visualization, could well be the main factor influencing people.

Previous post:

Next post: