#eMetrics Reflection: Data Visualization (Still!) Matters

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I’m chunking up my reflections on last week’s eMetrics conference in San Francisco into several posts. I’ve got a list of eight possible topics, but I seriously doubt I’ll managed to cover all of them.

On Tuesday, I attended Ian Lurie’s presentation: “Data That Persuades: How to Prove Your Point.” This session was a “fist pumper” for me, as Ian is as frustrated by crappy data visualization as I am (he led off the presentation by showing a mouth guard, sharing that he wears one at night because he grinds his teeth, and then noting that the stress of seeing data poorly presented was a big source of the stress driving that grinding!).

One of the ways Ian illustrated the importance of putting care into the way data gets presented was with this image:

Read, React, Respond

think it’s fair to say this a representation of the three types of memory:

  • The “lizard brain” represents iconic memory — the “visual sensory register.” It’s where preattentive cognitive processing occurs. If we don’t put something forth that is clear and instantaneously perceptible, then the information won’t get past the lizard brain.
  • The “ape brain” represents short-term memory — where conscious thought and basic processing occurs. The initial, “Do I care?” question gets asked and answered.
  • The “human brain” represents longer-term memory — where we actually need to digest the information and develop and implement a response.

Ian also spent a lot of time on Tufte’s data-ink ratio — imploring the audience to be heavily reductionist in the visualization of data by removing extraneous words, lines, tick marks, etc. so that “the data” really comes through.

Otherwise, the recipients of the data will be like screaming goats:

Screaming Goat

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