By Mafe Callejón
“An image is worth a thousand words” the saying goes, but when referring to data visualization that number quickly scales. The power of graphics relies on their ability to quickly communicate considerable amounts of data in a fairly small space and, sometimes, even at a glance. Good charts show trends and insights easily, but even better charts give the reader the chance to explore those findings further.
The recently published “Climate Change 2021” report is a great example of how data visualization can help get your point across. Published by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), the report has been called “a code red for humanity” by UN Secretary General António Guterres. Given the importance of this topic for all humans, it was of utmost importance for this report to effectively communicate its point accross the world.
Besides the quality of the research and its accessible writing style, the document includes several charts that demonstrate the current and future state of the planet, making its findings quickly available to readers. These charts provide more depth into an already complicated topic while also making some of the insights more digestible for readers. The steep lines and dark red colors depict a scary reality: the planet is warming quickly.
American statistician and data visualization master Edward Tufte said that charts achieve a level of graphical excellence when they manage to communicate information clearly, effectively and precisely to others. In a previous blog post, we went over some of the elements that can make a chart more compelling and accurate. Now, we’ve decided to showcase the communicative power of data visualization by recreating some of the charts from the “Climate Change 2021” report and sharing some of the lessons we learned while doing so.
Far from allowing us to showcase our data in an eye-catching way, the main purpose of data visualizations should always be to communicate something and to explain complex ideas to others. Alberto Cairo, a professor at the University of Miami and Knight Chair in Visual Journalism, wrote in his book The Functional Art: “The first goal of an infographic is not to be beautiful just for the sake of eye appeal, but, above all, to be understandable first, and beautiful after that; or to be beautiful thanks to its exquisite functionality.”
When used correctly, data visualization can make a difference to how our ideas are interpreted and understood. Is there something you are trying to communicate to others? Perhaps a chart is the solution you are looking for.