Join Bill Shander for an in-depth discussion in this video Illustration and iconography, part of Learning Data Visualization.
- [Instructor] In this video, we're going to talk about the use of illustration and iconography in data visualization. I can really sum it up in one sentence. Visual elements, illustration and iconography, are really essential for visualization in many cases. They help make your content relatable to your audience, but you do have to be careful. You have to resist the temptation to overdo it and understand the time required to do it right. We communicate visually for many reasons, and in visualization, I think it comes down to three things primarily. One is tangibility.
We're trying to make the intangible tangible. We're trying to make data, numbers, into things that people can relate to and understand, and visual elements really help do that. Whether it's a chart where you can easily visually compare datasets or illustration to help bring themes to life, it's really an important part of what we do to make the intangible tangible. Second is making the complex simple. Illustration and iconography can really help you reduce text. You don't have to explain something in long paragraphs of text when an image will help bring it home.
They can help convey meaning quickly and easily. And finally, it's about context setting. Visual elements can add a lot of value and they can reduce distraction. They can actually help grab attention, and of course, they can really help establish and emphasize themes in your infographics and visualizations. So, let's say we're going to create some healthcare infographic, and of course we want it to be shared widely on Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest, so we want our imagery to really jump out and grab attention. So, our first temptation, of course, is to use a very large illustration or a photo of a theme-oriented image.
So, in this case, a healthcare image. We want it to be immediately clear, as soon as someone sees this graphic, this is about healthcare. If you see it on Facebook and you're a doctor or you're in healthcare or you care about healthcare, as soon as you see this stethoscope, you're going to say, oh, this is all about healthcare, this is about me, I want to look at it. So, as you start adding content on your infographic, and let's say we have four pieces of content we want to share, of course you're going to start to want to add imagery to go with the elements of content that, again, reinforce your visual theme. And probably, those little images that go with each little content bite should be relevant to the content that it's related to.
Both uses of imagery, the large, thematic image as well as the smaller more focused images, of course, are very valid uses of illustration and iconography. They really will help capture attention and help your users understand the meaning in the graphic. They'll draw the eye and they can help reinforce your themes. But you have to be really careful in what you do and how you do it. So, for instance, in the lower left-hand corner here, we've added a bar chart made out of hypodermic needles. And while I can certainly see that the third syringe is the tallest and the fourth syringe is the shortest and I can read the data to some degree, it actually has been proven that it's harder to read the real relative values when you're using irregular shapes like this as opposed to just the trusty old rectangular bar.
So, in this case, we're actually detracting from understanding rather than adding to it, even though I can sort of read general trends in the data. Now, if you have to use and you want to use theme-based imagery, which I do recommend, just be careful about how you do it. So, here we have pills, which, of course, are related to our theme of healthcare, but they're much more uniform. So, the shapes of these bars now are much more uniform and clear, I can really more easily tell the relative values of the bars as opposed to just sort of generally the values of the bars.
If you also note now how the main image can really draw the eye from the top left to the bottom right. So, our image is really reinforcing our linear storytelling structure. We're drawing the eye through a linear progression. One thing to keep in mind is that illustration and iconography can be difficult. It can be hard to create even very simply concepts in icons, and even sourcing icons from third parties like from stock photo and stock illustration sites, it can be hard. So, that's not to discourage you from doing it, I actually strongly recommend it, but you do want to be careful about it.
You want to make sure you factor it into your schedules and your budgets on the projects that you do.
- Channeling your audience
- Understanding your data
- Determining the information hierarchy
- Sketching and wireframing your ideas
- Defining your narrative
- Using typography, color, contrast, and shape to convey meaning
- Making your visualization interactive