Visual Arguments and Explanations

Today I had the pleasure of presenting on visual arguments and explanations for Jon Becker‘s class, EDLP 717: Communicating Research Findings (aka Telling Stories with Data). For their final project, Jon has tasked his students with producing a “high-quality modern report” from real data on employee followership for a hypothetical client.  While Jon has spent the last weeks walking them through data analysis and statistics, he thought I might have something to say about information design and reporting.

I have a lot to say about information design, mostly driven from attending Edward Tufte’s day-long lecture on presenting data.  To prepare for this presentation, I reread Tufte’s books and included a lot of images directly from his books (or, more frequently, from his blog in which he uses his own book images to expand the conversation).  However, I also introduced the versatility and ubiquitousness of visual explanation through Berinato’s matrix of “data visualizations that really work” and incorporated other online resources such as the Data Visualisation Catalogue and Ann K Emery, so it wasn’t all Tufte, all the time.

This presentation came at the right time for me, personally.  The work that I do involves a lot of information design, although I did not recognize it as such until my recent deep dive into Tufte’s work.  I rely on his principles (forced visual comparisons, focus on causation, annotations, direct labeling, smallest effective difference, etc.) every day in how I communicate with the rest of my design team.  Since I’ve completed my deep-dive, I find that I am using these principles more strategically and consistently and sharing that intentionality with my teammates…which in turn has improved their information design and communication.

So thank you, Jon and EDLP 717, for giving me several hours of your time.  Once again, I learned as much as I taught.

Here are some slides.

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Featured image by Carlos Muza on Unsplash


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