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Pretty can become untrustworthy

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Maricelle's picture
After weeks of writing numerous blog posts, I have finally come to the conclusion that data visualisation is a wonderful thing- something that is able to help you build and maintain a better relationship with others. However, it can also have serious ramifications for relationships of trust. I’m joking, right? Definitely not.
 
When visualisations are not designed properly, it can have a negative impact on your reputation as well as your business. Sometimes data visualisation just does not work, because amazing pictures are confused with visuals that are used to make information easier to comprehend.
 
But why?
Do not split hairs. It is actually really simple to understand.
 
Visualisation architect, Drew Skau states on the platform Visual.ly, that “when visualisation is not done properly, it can often read as propaganda”.
 
He further states that trust is a very important aspect within the relationship of the viewer and the organisation as one of the goals of each organisation should entail establishing a bond between the visualiser and the viewer.
 
Skau says that “visualizations intended to convey information end up conveying dishonesty and hidden intentions”.
 
Let’s unpack these wild statements.
 
Data is a very powerful tool and, if not represented accurately, can have serious effects on your credibility. Some visualisations really miss the point, even if they do not intend to do so.
 
Our trusty author, Skau, gives a number of reasons for this:
  • Large data sets: Getting hold of data and representing it in a way that conveys a message are easier said than done. The point is that getting the necessary data to tell the full story is expensive. To avoid extra costs, most organisations often do not pay for data. This, in essence limits the available data and organisations tend to get hold of data from a variety of sources that are not always trustworthy.
  • Incomplete data: Data visualisers are often asked to create stunning visualisations that will tell a story. Because of a lack of data, the visualisations are incomplete, ugly and say just plain nothing. Missing information is never a good idea as the visualisation will be broken and make no sense without the data needed to make it fully understandable. 
  • Data problems: If you do not have all the data that you need, your visualisation will definitely not make sense. Designers are not solely to blame for this as it is not in the interest of any business to be pressed for cash when creating visualisations. In the long run, the positive effects that trustworthy visualisations have on business itself will make an appearance. 
Analysing data
When anaysing data, you should be very careful.
 
Author, Sayf Sharif states “it’s incredibly easy when you start adding in different dimensions, to completely get the wrong insight from a specific batch of data”.
 
Sharif further says that visualisations can often lead one to draw the wrong conclusions.
 
An example is the graph showing how eCommerce is decreasing.
Image sourced from lunametrics.com
 
We are able to see that the line is dropping, but the chart hides important information from us. This is a good example of large data sets that the organisation did not want to pay for. The chart starts at 94 and ends at 101 and yet, the line is representing a significant drop in conversion rates.
 
Now, how’s that for representing “accurate” data? Yes, it has completely failed the test to explain a particular issue visually.
 
Similarly, the visualisation on historical browser statistics may be visually appealing, but there is more than meets the eye.
 
Although this visualisation is aesthetically pleasing, can you tell at first glance what it is about? I did not think so, because neither could I. 
 
Looking at something and understanding it are two separate things that should be considered when analysing these visualisations.
 
While data visualisations are extremely powerful and can have certain benefits, they also have the potential to destroy your credibility in the blink of an eye.
 
Always make sure that visualisations are accurate and easily understandeable. When in doubt, less is always more.