Data Visualization: Create Powerful Infographics

Data visualization helps scientists communicate complex information both effectively and engagingly because being able to visualize information helps brains digest and retain. Thus, infographics are not only impactful, but using them can increase research visibility as they are more easily shared online—like through Twitter!

However, not all visualizations are created equally. Wrong presentation—chart type, typography, colors, etc.—can diminish impact and even misrepresent data entirely. Here are our top tips for making quality infographics.

1. Keep it simple.

Getting creative can easily go awry. Start with these general best practices in mind:
  • Avoid using background images (stick to white or transparent)
  • Use simple fonts (sans serif works best for graphics)
  • Stick to a color scheme unless necessary (for more complex data)
  • Space components apart equally
  • Avoid 3D shapes unless necessary. This is because, done improperly, 3D components can easily skew data and distort perception and interpretation. For example, a 3D bar may be significantly greater in volume than a 2D bar in area.

2. Colors are your friends.

As sharing data move to the web, we can better take advantage of colors. No need to use dots and dashes to differentiate between black lines anymore! Dotted and dashed lines can be distracting especially as lines crisscross in complex graphs. Instead, use different colored lines.
This infograhapic by South China Morning Post shows China's rapid economic growth by region over the past two decades. Each province can easily be traced back to its region (Tibet, Qinghai, Ningxia, Gansu, amd Xinjiang all use the salmon-color, which indicates that is is a "Big Northwest China" province as according to the legend). It is easy to spot that all light-blue colored/"Middle-Reaches of the Yangtze River" provinces (Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei, and Hunan) are performing comparatively similar to each other, while provinces of other regions, such as Southwest China and North-Coastal China, have greater variability within regions.
Note: Some colors stand out more than others (e.g. red versus yellow), which may give extra, unwarranted weight to certain pieces of data. Try sticking to colors in the same color family.
This corruption perception infographic by Transparency International, uses the most eye-grabbing color red to draw your attentino to the most highly perceived as corrupt country. In 2013, the countries perceived as having the most currupt public sectors are Somalia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Sudan, South Sudan, Libya, Iraq, Turkmenistan, and Syria.      

3. Order, order!

Data should always be arranged sequentially in a way that makes the most logical sense. Arrange categories (in the axis and in the legend) alphabetically or in ascending/descending value. For pie charts, make sure segments are ordered either in clockwise or counter-clockwise order.
From the same set of data by Transparency International, this infographic orders countries from lowest perceived corrupt public sector to highest. This organization makes it particularly easy for readers to instantly identify problematic public sectors. The pie charts on the right side also breaks down each region, where the largest segment indicates the most corrupt in that region. For example, in the Middle East and North Africa, Qatar and the UAE scored on the less corrupt side whereas Iraq was the most corrupt. Upon quick glance readers can also quickly see that the EU & Western Europe is perceived as the least corrupt because the pie chart is mostly yellow.

4. Take Charge.

Help writers identify key points and walk away with the right message by doing the hard work for them:
This infographic by Information is Beautiful, shows some of the biggest expenditures in history. Off the bat readers can see that the "worst case" financial crisis cost to the US government would have been astronomical and that the actual cost of the financial crisis was only $2,800 billion (still not a small sum). We can also see that OPEC's Climate Change Fund is only a tiny fraction of its earnings just as Russie spends only a fraction of the amount the US spends on its defence. The Beijing Olympics cost almost nothing compared to the Iraq War, the biggest real expenditure on this infographic.

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