The Infographic Lense: How Data Visualization Helps Us Make Sense of Our Surroundings

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Myopia

At it’s heart, an infographic is a tool, that if used properly, helps us to understand the world we live in better. A couple years ago the world became a little blurry to me. I don’t mean this in a political or philosophical way, I mean that I was having trouble reading the chalkboard. I went to the optometrist and learned I needed glasses. After trying on a few pairs I selected a pair of glasses I liked. Having never worn glasses before, when I stepped outside for the first time, I felt a little awkward and self-conscious. But more importantly, I had what you might call an eye opening experience. I saw the world clearly, in a manner that was completely new.

Before wearing glasses I didn’t know I was seeing things less clearly than others, I assumed that was just how things looked. But through a pair of curved lenses I was looking at a richly textured world. Wearing glasses, my surroundings made more sense. I could see street signs better, clearly see the faces of others walking down the street and more richly enjoy a sunset. After getting glasses I couldn’t help but look out the window of my apartment and feel amazed at how clear everything looked. All these simple, yet great experiences were because of one little tool that helped me to see things just a little bit more clearly.

An Onslaught of Information

We all live in a beautiful world that is incredibly intricate and complex. Each day we are bombarded by an incomprehensible amount of information. This information, in a large part comes from the digital media we use, but in reality everything we experience can be quantified as information. To handle all this data we have devised various tools to help us make sense of everything. We have microscopes that allow us to see incredibly small objects and telescopes to see objects that are incredibly far away. But one of the most useful tools and often underestimated, is the picture.

For thousands of years people have been making pictures to help convey information. A picture can convey concepts and ideas that are incredibly complex, quickly and efficiently. Gothic cathedrals are infamous for using pictures to tell stories, in the form of stained glass, for the vast majority of people who could not read. It is no surprise that with the massive influx of digital media over the past decades, that infographics, or pictures of information, have become a common tool for helping people make sense of the world.

Infographic Clarity

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Florence Nightingale, born in England in 1820, was a woman considered ahead of her time pioneering the field of modern nursing. As is common with heading into uncharted waters, she was exposed to a lot of new information. Figuratively, she lived in a time when things were a bit blurry. In order to help others see things more clearly, she utilized data visualization. At this time data visualizations were practically unheard of. But Nightengale unitized these charts to help people understand complex issues quickly. One of her most famous charts (shown above), now referred to as a Nightingale Rose Diagram, helped save the lives of british soldiers at war. The chart shows the number of deaths caused by preventable disease over the period of two years. This chart clearly shows which diseases are most prevalent in a given month and compares them against other months. This information could easily have been displayed as a list of numbers, dates, and diseases. But by turning this data into a single image, the viewer can quickly access and digest the information. Even someone not capable of reading could get a good idea of which months had the most deaths.

An increased need for effective data visualization

Since the time of Florence Nightingale the use of infographics has continued to increase. What was once considered irrelevant, is now a part of our everyday lives. Data visualization continues to be used to make complex subjects tangible and understandable. Each day we are exposed to massive numbers in the news concerning debt, populations and technological advancements. We hear about companies and governments spending billions upon billions of dollars. Most of us, however, have a hard time relating to numbers this large as we have nothing to compare it to for context. David Mccandless famously tackled the issue of these incomprehensible amounts of money. Mccandless explained the value of a billion dollars simply, by putting it into context and making a picture. The Chart he made takes information that is abstract and brings it into focus. And by doing so, cures the myopia of those who aren’t well acquainted with such large sums of money.

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Seeing things from a new perspective

Too often we go about our daily ideas with the assumption that we are seeing the full picture. We have to stop and take notice of what is going on around us. By utilizing data visualization and infographics we can help make sense of our surroundings. But it goes much deeper than that, for information clearly understood amounts to understanding, intelligence, and in the case of Florence Nightingale, extended human life. An infographic is a tool that helps us to see. A tool if we don’t utilize, will cause us to risk missing out on this amazing world we live in.

Sources:
http://visual.ly/diagram-causes-mortality-army-east
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8381597.stm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Nightingale

Published in: Blog by Scott

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