How to Design Data

We’ve written a lot about designing, what to do, what not to do and why simplicity is always key. But designing data brings a whole other set of challenges.

Data can be a pain. There are stats, correlations and complicated numbers that we as visual communication designers have to digest and turn into something anyone could understand. Maybe we’re masochists, but we thrive on the challenge of turning complex data into visual stories.

Here’s what we see as the key to infographic design, presentation design, report design – any design where you need to turn the manically complex into the wonderfully simple.

Remember less is more
Viewers don’t want to be overwhelmed with data. If they wanted that they would look at the raw data we’ve spend hours deciphering. Often, people like to keep presentation and reports as short as possible and do this by jamming loads of information into a small space. I always say it’s better have ten slides and spend one minute on each, than have five slides you have to spend ten minutes explaining.

Choose the right type of chart
Charts and infographics go hand in hand. Rarely will a data visualisation exist without one. So, it’s vital to choose the right type of chart for the data you have. Each chart has a different purpose and it’s important to get to grips with each of them. Charts are there for easy comparison and one of the most common mistakes I see is people using pie charts side by side, when a bar graph is much easier to read when comparing.

Keep it simple
When design gets really bad it can even skew the data. 3D pie charts and other fancy effects can sometimes change how the data looks, even if the numbers are correct. I’m a huge fan of simplicity as fancy designs don’t really add anything and often end up looking gimmicky. The only time ‘fancy’ designs work effectively is when there is a strong theme that it ties into. Crisp, clear, simple, whatever you want to call it, keep it that way.

Get the flow right
Data visualisation is there to tell a story. So are reports, presentations – almost anything. When working with data we need to find the logical order. When looking at data from a survey for example, you might first want to know how many people were surveyed, and then how many were male or female, and then their age, etc,. It all needs to be intuitive and read like a book, otherwise the viewer gets lost and doesn’t know what to look at first.

Be accurate
This may seem like a given but I have seen far too many pie charts where the pieces don’t add up to 100% to believe that. Double, triple, quadruple check the data to make sure you have it all correct. One little mistake could cost hours of work. The most important thing is remembering to cite your sources. Without this, you might as well have made the whole thing up (it probably would have been easier).

Do you have any more data design tips? Tweet us! @infographicly_