Join Bill Shander for an in-depth discussion in this video Eye candy, part of Data Visualization: Storytelling.
- [Instructor] There's an ongoing argument that plays out in this corner of the universe about the validity of using eye candy to keep things interesting, so we entertain as well as inform. I fall clearly on the side that acknowledges that as communicators we must entertain as well as inform. But of course it goes without saying that this entertainment can't come at the expense of accuracy and truthfulness in our data communications. For instance, you shouldn't pick fancy charts because they're more interesting than a bar chart unless they're also at least equally as accurate, understandable, and clear.
But eye candy really serves three purposes. Yes, the first one is to keep things interesting, but equally as important, if not more so, eye candy can serve to draw the eye to what's important. Think of animation as being functional, to make sure your audience notices the important stuff. And not only do we draw the eye to what's important, sometimes we can indicate with our eye candy that something is not simply visual, but active. For instance, a bouncing object can be a cue to an audience that something is clickable. These are really three good reasons for adding a bit of eye candy, that extra pizzazz to anything you create.
I can't emphasize enough that eye candy has to be functional, or at a minimum not detract from your functionality. Data stories are best when they walk that line very carefully. They're best when they artfully combine information and entertainment, form and function. Two of my favorite data visualization artists today are Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec. They both do really interesting work and one of my favorite projects in recent years is they collaborative that they called Dear Data. Each week they sent each other postcards of data sketches after tracking different variables in their lives throughout the week.
They always took a different approach from each other and each one is compelling and interesting and creative. As is typical of their work, the visual approaches are non-standard in many of the cases. By the first definition, they're definitely eye candy, because they're visually fresh and interesting. As is sometimes the case with fresh and interesting visuals your audience might need some hand holding to understand what they're looking at and what it means. In these cases you would need to know it's worth your audiences' effort to invest in learning a new way of reading their data. If so, you've given them something that's worth the investment and that the payoff in terms of that artistic return and or the data insight returned is worth that effort.
I think Giorgia and Stefanie pulled that off with this project in most cases. Often when I think about eye candy it's the little things that can make a big difference. Here's a project of mine that I did for the World Bank. CGAP, the consultative group to assist the poor, looks at financial services available to the poor, and this one is looking at a survey done with smallholder families. Essentially, households that are agricultural producers, farmers, in the countries of Mozambique, Tanzania, and Pakistan. And as you click through this experience it's text, it's kind of like the one that I showed earlier in the course, also for CGAP, it's pretty straightforward, it's just a few slides, it's text and images and some simply visualizations.
And so in this case it's just a scatter plot and the scatter plot is labeled, so I know exactly what I'm looking at, there's an audio to actually help you understand more of what's going on, but the point here is that as I click on the different countries the dots light up. And as you can see they animate and they sort of come to life a little bit more than just simply changing color. This one's pretty straightforward in terms of eye candy. The next one, this is looking at income streams, and the reason I bring this one up is essentially we're looking at each line is a different stream of income, so in other words they might have two different crops, so two different sources of agricultural income, and then a bunch of non-agricultural income.
Maybe they sell Cokes on the side of the road, or maybe they work as laborers for other people's farms. And when the audio plays in this experience what happens is that as the audio hits certain points in the narration track and starts to explain, for instance, what's going on it triggers activity, it triggers actions within the interactive experience. And so, for instance, as the narrator at the very beginning is explaining, hey, each line is an income stream, I'm just gonna trigger the event manually here, this is what happens.
So it's a subtle animation and I really like this one, there's just something about it, that the timing of it, it's sort of subtle, but it draws the eye, rather than simply lighting up those streams and then making them dark again, there's a bit of a delay between each one. These subtle effects really make a difference, 'cause they're sort of, the way they're timed and then the way they take more time than they might if it was just a simple on and off trigger, allows the user to get used to the fact that something is occurring. Or another example, this one is looking at the volatility of income.
And so on the y-axis we have the relative income and on the x-axis is time. And so again, as this particular visualization loads it doesn't just all load immediately, they animate on. And there's sort of a slight delay in terms of when they animate on, so it gives the users the opportunity to sort of see something's happening and wait for it, and then once it's done, and it happens quickly, you don't want them to wait for too long, it gives an indication that these are live, the fact that they animate on, so that you know that you can roll over it and something else is gonna happen.
And as I change countries, once again, the whole thing comes to life on its own. So this isn't super fancy stuff, this is pretty straightforward, but I take a lot of care on the projects that I work on to make sure that the animations and the transitions and the things are timed just very subtly and carefully to again, draw the eye, let people know that something is active, and to make things more visually interesting. Don't let anyone tell you eye candy is unimportant. As long as our attention spans continue to shrink and the competition for your audience's attention gets fiercer eye candy will be more and more critical to communicating anything.
Make sure that whatever eye candy you employ serves your audience and adds to the value of what you're communicating. Never undermine your quality and accuracy in exchange for the eye candy, but at the same time you should never be satisfied with a stale, boring old bar chart if a more lively and animated and visual approach is available.
Join data visualization expert Bill Shander as he guides you through the process of turning "facts and figures" into "story" to engage and fulfill our human expectation for information. This course is intended for anyone who works with data and has to communicate it to others, whether a researcher, a data analyst, a consultant, a marketer, or a journalist. Bill shows you how to think about, and craft, stories from data by examining many compelling stories in detail.
- Creating a narrative structure for data
- Applying narrative to data
- Identifying what you want to say with the data
- Analyzing what your data is saying
- Determining what your audience needs to hear
- Leveraging tables, charts, and visuals
- Ensuring your narrative provides context and direction