Numeric or quantitative results are opportunities to tell powerful narratives, the foremost expert on visualizing information Edward Tufte, says. Tufte, a statistician, and artist have written, designed, and self-published four books on data visualization including Beautiful Evidence, a well-respected tome on visualizing numerical findings.
Tufte’s principles serve as a guide for how to accurately portray data using visual elements. This is critical for service designers who must be skilled at presenting ideas. I’ve seen managers rise to executive positions with strong skills to shape narratives from data.
Along these lines, there are some dos and don’ts for presenting data. For this, we look to Tufte’s principles, which have been cut down to their essentials for service designers.
To begin, Tufte describes the importance of accurately scaling data for visualization. Many of us are guilty of adjusting charts to fit and in so doing, alter the proportions of relative points. In these cases, a column chart that is expanded can distort the size and spacing relative to other data columns.
Or, when values are tightly packed in one area, and sparse in another, there is a desire and tendency to spread things out evenly. In each case, this can lead to a false impression of the data and incorrect conclusions.
These are Tufte’s 6 principles adopted for Service Design:
1. Comparisons: Show data by comparisons (bar charts and the like) to depict contrasts and differences between dependent variables.
2. Causality: Demonstrate how one or more independent variables impact or influence dependent variables.
3. Multivariate: Various data are combined so an audience can easily interpret an otherwise complex narrative.
4. Integration: Incorporate various modes of information (texts, maps, calculations, diagrams, etc.), to show evidence of source data-to-findings.
5. Documentation: For credibility, include attribution, detailed titles, and measurements (scales).
6. Context: Describe or depict the before and after state. Show trend lines to hint at results in the future.
In summary, when service designers recognize one of their roles is to lead teams and present data to executives, they will take great care to develop solid narratives from facts and create accurate visual presentations. I’ve seen some who possess these skills to rise in their careers, and I’ve also seen others whose careers have stagnated because they lacked this ability.
An Excerpt from The Master: A Handbook for Service Designers. (Available soon.) Find out more from www.InternationalServiceDesignInstitute.com