How can we visualise research results in a graph? An infographics workshop at the University of Vienna on 24 January 2018 tried to answer this question. Which data are suited best for which graph, how does visualisation work and which pitfalls await us when drawing diagrams? We will let you know in this post.
How can we create a vivid picture depicting key messages? This question lured people to the workshop on infographics at the Research Services and Career Development service unit. This workshop was organised by the WTZ Ost, a somewhat cumbersome name for a good thing: The universities in Vienna joined forces to make research accessible under the heading of “Wissens- und Technologietransfer” (knowledge transfer and technology transfer) – beyond universities and into society. Students, doctoral candidates, (early stage) researchers, alumni/alumnae or future entrepreneurs learn about ways to contribute to this transfer. Within the science communication focus, they may attend free workshops on storytelling, podcasts, science slam or – just like today – infographics. The entire range of courses is available here (in German).
“The joy of stats”
The host of the workshop “Daten sichtbar machen” (making data visible) was Walter Longauer, head of the graphics editorial office at Austria Presse Agentur (APA, Austria Press Agency). If you google him, you will find mainly one thing: infographics. He also has a very informative Twitter account (@walterlongauer which contains – you can probably already guess – infographics. I strain my ears and sharpen my coloured pencils when he presents the plan for the four hours to come: theoretical introduction, group work, best practice examples and time to answer burning questions. We start with a video in which the “infographics guru” Hans Rosling explains global population growth over the last 200 years by means of an animated graph projected into the room, in no more than five minutes.
The “golden path” for infographics
The “golden path” for infographics is certainly something that Rosling is familiar with: Data + design + function = good data visualisation. It takes three things: illuminating data, a good design and a graph that works. In short, readers should understand the infographics. By the way, readers are willing to spend only two seconds on understanding: In this period, they decide whether they further deal with infographics or continue scrolling. My first thought is that this sounds like a lot of pressure.
Which graphs are best suited for which data?
Fortunately, we received instructions on this issue for the future, so that nothing should go wrong when presenting data visually. Stacked columns and pie charts can be used for shares, whereas columns or pictorial statistics according to Otto Neurath are more suited for comparing size, and curve diagrams are best suited for displaying trends. Which data may combined with which graphic elements? We obtained the results in a group exercise.
The majority of these types of visualisation are also included in Excel. For a more sophisticated visualisation, Walter Longauer recommends using applications that are either free of charge or inexpensive such as Affinity, Tumult or Infogram.
Another insight I gained from the workshop was that there are a number of common pitfalls that we should avoid, as well as some rules that we should keep in mind when making infographics:
– A pie chart should have not more than five pieces.
– Keep the reading direction in mind: We start to read at the top left corner. Thus, this is the best place for the most important data.
– If a graph contains too many elements, it becomes hard to read. It is better to divide comprehensive data over multiple graphs or to show details in an enlarged section.
– If at all possible, we should not use a legend.
– It is important to use colours coherently and logically.
– “Know what you really want to say”: Develop clear messages, otherwise things may become complicated.
The workshop was packed with arrows, pictograms and curves. It was astonishing how fast these four hours elapsed. After the workshop, I really had the desire to grab a pencil and start drawing immediately. You can find a lot of inspiration for drawing your own graphs in a retrospective, which was compiled on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the APA infographics editorial office.
- Dan Roam: The Back of the Napkin
- Dona M. Wong: Guide to Information Graphics