Design and Conquer

Create compelling graphics

May 1, 2017

Dispatches, by Hsuanwei Michell Chen

As information professionals, we collect a ton of data. Information visualization can help us leverage that data to provide relevant content to our users and stakeholders. When creating graphs, charts, maps, or other graphics, you want to make certain that the data depicts your message with clarity and precision so your target audience can gain useful insights and discern relevant trends. Here are some tips to help you create effective graphics:

Be clear and concise. Ensure that the data you are illustrating is comprehensive and accurate. The goal is to convey the greatest number of ideas in the smallest amount of space in the shortest number of words. A good resource to review for inspiration is The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte. His graphical integrity principles offer substantive insights into creating strong visualizations that display data for maximum comprehension. Tufte recommends including labels that are detailed and thorough. Clear labels can help prevent data from being misinterpreted. By being clear and concise, you can help prevent ambiguity in the message you are trying to get across.

Remove chart junk. Chart junk includes all the visual elements in charts and graphs that are unnecessary for the viewer to understand the major points. Examples of chart junk include heavy or dark grid lines, superfluous text, and inappropriately ornate fonts. In addition, decorative chart axes and display frames, pictures or icons within data graphs, ornamental shading, and unnecessary dimensions are potential chart junk. When graphs are used to persuade or illuminate, they should make the data memorable. Graphics should be uncluttered. If there are too many elements, you could unwittingly be taking away from the main points you’re trying to present.

Choose design tools that best suit your library’s needs and preferences. Many software packages are available. These are some of the most popular tools. I encourage you to research these selections further, try them out, and pick software that best fits your design needs.

  • D3.js, or Data-Driven Documents is a JavaScript library that uses HTML, CSS, and SVG files to render charts and diagrams. It is well known for its ability to create precise, creative, interactive visualizations. One of the main benefits of this resource is that it’s free and open source, making it an excellent tool for amateur learners. Several tutorials using D3.js are available online.
  • FusionCharts includes an exhaustive collection of charts and maps, with more than 90 chart types and more than 1,000 maps. FusionCharts supports major data formats, such as JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) and XML. Some features offer interactive zooming and scrolling, as well as real-time updates from the server. Charts can be exported into a variety of formats, such as PNG, JPEG, PDF, or SVG. It offers a free trial and a fee-based license.
  • Google Charts uses HTML5 and SVG to create charts that are portable and compatible across different browsers and platforms. This free tool offers a wide range of display options, such as bar, pie, line, map, and gauge charts. It is also well known for its flexibility and ease of use.
  • Tableau is one of the most commonly adopted visualization tools. It supports a wide range of charts, maps, graphs, and other visual designs. It also offers strong support for academic users.

Use these tips to relay data in an effective way that will help your library stay competitive through better data assessment, library message delivery, and user engagement. The time is ideal to incorporate information visualization into the fabric of your library’s culture.