We are fortunate to be in a day and age where there is an enormous wealth of data at our fingertips, but without the appropriate means to contextualise and compare data, impact can be lost, misinterpreted or miscommunicated. At HRW we are driven to continuously provide clear and actionable insights for our clients. Earlier this month, Francesca Cooper (Research Executive) attended David McCandless’ data visualisation workshop, “Workshops are Beautiful” to learn more about the ways in which we can improve the presentation of our research findings. Below, she shares her take-aways from the day, and her thoughts on how we can avoid drowning in data and make sure our key insights shine.

Taking a controversial topic as an example, according to the Office for National Statistics, in 2018 the UK spent £15.5 bn for EU membership. That is a lot of money, but when comparing it to the £864.9 bn government public spending that year or the estimated £200 bn cost of Britain leaving the EU, it becomes difficult to visualise what that all really means. Until you can visualise it in a second…


In 2018 the UK spent £15.5 bn for EU membership

Data visualisation is a fantastic tool that allows us to communicate a complex story in a clear and translatable way. During the interactive session I attended in London, David McCandless took us through a series of dynamic, and topical, examples such as of spikes in media-inflamed fears over the past 20 years (see visual below). In this instance, the image helped us to quickly compare yearly peaks in media mentions of the danger of violent video games, versus pandemics like Swine Flu and Ebola. By overlaying, we can contextualise and identify sequences from the information shown in a graph: i.e. the panic you may feel towards the rise in killer wasps somehow seems less worrying when you see there is a media scare consistently every year.


Mountains out of molehills

A picture or graph says a thousand words if developed and executed carefully and can deliver a great magnitude of information. From a seed of an idea –a research question, a topic of curiosity, or a frustration – a wealth of data can be compressed into simple graphs through layering visual language tools (e.g. shape, size, colouring and positioning).

One example David presented, using a simple scatter chart, is the scale of ‘The Best Dog’. As you can see below, different dogs have been separated by public popularity versus how ‘good’ the dog is (a metric developed based on intelligence, cost, longevity etc).


Best in show: the ultimate data dog


The true skill in the graph is the detail behind what each datapoint represents: an icon for the dog breed; colour coding for the dog nature (working, hunter, hound); size (dog size) and even intelligence (left facing = dumb, right facing = clever), and all of a sudden, your simple scatter plot unfolds a whole lot more information than you would initially expect.

Throughout the day, we – a very engaged audience – collaborated to create our own case studies of research questions. For example, factors influencing the rise in veganism over the last 20 years or nutritional supplement popularity vs scientific proof. We were challenged to sketch theoretical visualisations building in layers of different information in the most simple and tangible way possible.

HRW take a lot of pride in providing great visualisation outputs, such as our collaboration with graphic designers and video animators to take the quality of our outputs to the next level. While there will always be a place for a trusty line, bar or (dare I say) pie chart, this workshop helped to drive forward how creative thinking will continually innovate the way in which we at HRW present our data.


By Francesca Cooper


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