Is Data Visualization the Next Design Challenge?

Data is everywhere, and design is the key to leveraging it

Stephanie Evergreen
Modus
Published in
7 min readJun 5, 2019

--

Illustration: Jackson Gibbs

II am a data nerd. I grew up, professionally speaking, designing studies, collecting data, and trying to get people to make use of the analysis and results. Then one day I realized that no one was going to pay attention to my amazing, glorious, wonderful data if my reports and presentations were poorly designed. So I married a graphic designer, and together we snarked at bad restaurant signage and had heated discussions about nuances in shades of purple. I became a design nerd, too.

When data and design successfully bridge, we can change the world.

Data nerds need designers

These days, I teach data nerds how to become better designers and designers how to become better data nerds. I design great graphs. And I study how data are presented. Here are the patterns that I see over and over again:

  • At worst, I see data nerds who have never worked with a designer, and the resulting heap of data is so off-putting that only the most committed will ever read through it to pull out meaningful insights.
  • In a better situation, I see beautifully designed reports with gorgeous, flowing page layouts and eye-catching color schemes — with all of the graphs tucked in an appendix, clearly just plunked into the page template and not even touched by the designer.
  • At best, I see graphs embedded appropriately in a report, story, or webpage, with the right look and feel that matches the rest of the design, but cast in the wrong graph type, like a pie chart with dozens of slices.

Are you cringing with recognition? If you’re a data nerd, you’ve probably witnessed at least one of these scenarios.

Data nerds need designers. Design is how we create engagement and spark action. But designers typically avoid a deeper understanding of data and how to best present it. Why?

The data/design landscape

My colleague, Elissa Schloesser, a graphic designer at My Visual Voice, suggested that traditional chart software, like Microsoft Excel, can feel intimidating (yo, it can feel intimidating to data…

--

--

Stephanie Evergreen
Modus
Writer for

author and speaker on data visualization @evergreendata