An Excerpt from The Master: A Handbook for Service Designers. (Available soon.)

Numeric or quantitative results are opportunities to tell powerful narratives, foremost expert on visualizing information Edward Tufte, says. Tufte, a statistician and artist, has 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. One of the biggest violations is scaling data results, including line charts, disproportionately to fit a space.

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:

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.


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