Noah Iliinsky – Beautiful Visualization: Letting Data Tell the Story

Sean Carmichael

March 24th, 2011


Duration: 30m | 16MB

Sifting through piles of information to find a story is difficult, especially if the story isn’t quickly recognizable. The more information thrown at you, the more challenging it becomes. Information Visualization uses the brain’s innate ability to recognize patterns to create visual representations of data. When you see a great visualization, it’s as if you are looking through the eyes of an expert.

Noah Iliinsky is a designer and co-editor of Beautiful Visualization. In his virtual seminar, Information Visualization: Letting Data Tell the Story, Noah gives examples of the types of visualizations in common use, why and when they are useful, and how to think about different types. Noah was unable to answer all of the questions during his session. In this podcast, He joins Adam Churchill to address the remaining questions.

Here’s an excerpt from the podcast.

“…like it or not, there’s always going to be people who want to use their visualization to persuade. And much like any other informational message, if you’re willing to bend the truth just a little bit, you can make it much more persuasive.

Now in general, I’m a stickler for the truth and I’m a stickler for accuracy. Part of that’s because I was educated as a scientist as an undergraduate and so I believe a lot in the accuracy of the data. So that’s one facet of that. I generally would like to show the truth and let the truth speak on its own rather than biasing it for the sake of the message.

The other part, and this is more specifically what Ryan is fundamentally asking, ‘Is it better to be truthful and boring or is it OK if it’s harder to understand and interesting?’ And in that question, again, I think the answer is, If your goal is to convey actual information, you want to make it truthful and maybe a little more boring because that is going to be more than made up for by the actual utility that your audience finds in it.

If it’s exciting to look at but hard to extract information from, people are going to glance at it and say, “Well that’s exciting, but this isn’t very useful because it’s very difficult for me to extract any knowledge from. And if there’s no way for me to extract that knowledge, there’s no actual benefit to me beyond just aesthetics,” and then they’re going to move on with their life.

So, I believe fundamentally that being able to get the message across to people is the most important goal, and I think it’s entirely possible to craft that within a visual context that is interesting, and appealing and useful. But if you start out with a purely aesthetic agenda, making the information accessible as an afterthought is usually going to fail…”

Listen in to the podcast to hear Noah answer these additional questions:

  • Should accuracy always prevail over maintaining engagement?
  • How do you build your capacity to generate ideas or visualize things?
  • What is your opinion on heat mapping as a technique?
  • What is your opinion on using two Y axes?
  • What tool do you use to generate charts from data in HTML or JavaScript?

What are your experiences with information visualization? Please share with us in our comments section.

Recorded: March, 2011
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One Response to “Noah Iliinsky – Beautiful Visualization: Letting Data Tell the Story”

  1. UIE Virtual seminar podcast « Complex Diagrams Says:

    […] Here’s the podcast and transcript that goes with my virtual seminar on visualization for UIE. In this podcast I talk a lot about basic visualization concepts, with some good Q&A. It’s good foundational material. Filed in Presenting & Recordings, Visualization  |  Tags: brain sparks, diagrams, how to, mine, podcast, Presenting & Recordings, theory, visualization digg | |  trackback […]

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