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Never Have a Poor Visualization Again

So you’re convinced that visualizations are powerful ways to display data. You’re ready to start creating some of your very own. So before you get carried away with design, let’s go over a few design pitfalls to avoid. Here are some top tips that I want to share courteous of top visual designer Ross Perez.

In his recent post on Ross Perez walks us through some easy mistakes to avoid when designing visualizations.

Data first, Presentation later

When it comes to creating visualizations, it is very easy to get carried away with the presentation or making it look “cool”. Perez states, “in an effort to make a visualization more ‘interesting’ or ‘cool’, designers will allow the presentation layer of a visualization to become more important than the data itself.” When designers focus too much on the presentation, you run the risk of the visualization getting lost and not succeeding in expressing information. Not quite sure what I mean, well Perez offers up an example of a visualization that has lost its way.

While the above visualization looks good, the designer focuses too much on the presentation, “without a scale or axis, the times series on the bottom right is meaningless and the 3D chart in the center is even more opaque…this looks amazing, but does little.”

Too much detail

Part of the appeal of a visualization is that you can show large, complex data easily. When you come across a particularly interesting data set, the tendency is to try to show everything all at once. According to Perez “Often, that [showing everything at once] actually makes a visualization superfluous because the user could simply look at the dataset itself if they wanted to see the finest level of detail.” So how do you create a visualization that balances the act of presenting data in an engaging manner without overwhelming the reader? “The trick, then, is to show enough detail to tell a story, but not so much that the story is convoluted and hidden.”

Remembering to explain the interactivity

While incorporating some interactivity is generally a great addition, it’s important to let readers know how to use that interactivity. According to Perez, “How you label the interactive is just as important as doing it in the first place.” Placing your notification for the reader in a place where they will first look is a great place to start. Regardless how you do it, you want to remember that it’s always a good idea to explain the interactivity you are asking your readers to undertake.


As the case with most projects, it’s often that your first idea isn’t always the best. Perez points out that “It is easy to get excited about a visualization and then stick to the first version that came to your mind when you saw the data.” When designing a visualization, Perez suggests coming up with several ideas and testing them, “the best part about experimentation is that it often forces new findings out of the data.” The more you experiment, the better your end product will be. So when designing, try not to get hung up on certain ideas, keeping an open mind and playing with various ideas will almost always make for a stronger end product.

There you have it. Four classic mistakes you should avoid when creating visualizations. By steering clear of these mistakes you can be sure that your next visualization will be much closer to perfection.

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