Datavis ideas

According to research at Sheffield Hallam University, comics are a better educational resource than traditional textbooks.   When information was presented to Undergraduate students using cartoon infographics they remembered more of it than when it was presented in a traditional text book format.

It’s long been known that we respond better to visual images than the written word or number.   Ask someone whether the difference between one pair of numbers is greater than the difference between another pair, they will stop to think awhile.

But show the differences as lines on a page and the answer becomes obvious.

More importantly, however, when comic cartoons are used, the effort involved in digesting everything down into a few key points shifts from the viewer to the illustrator.   They, rather than the viewer, translate the pages of text into the salient points that need to be remembered.   This is because they need to design infographics capable of explaining those points with as few words as possible.   In short, they are handing the story over to the viewer on a plate.

This might not be what we want for our students (we would like them to do some work after all).   But for our organisations this is exactly what’s required.

We need people from different backgrounds, with a wide variety of roles and experience, to quickly gain the same understanding of a problem or an issue.   And simple, well designed infographics are ideal for this purpose.

In the following example each of the boxes is a department or a team within a business.   And starting with the ‘funds in’ at the top, the lines illustrate how the money in the budget is allocated down through the organisation.   The wider the line, the larger the sum of money involved.

Budget allocations

There is little detail to see unless you drill down.   But little of the detail is needed.   The shapes and lines are sufficient for everyone to understand ‘at a glance’ where the money goes – essential for the day when people have to think quickly and creatively about how to make the money go further.

Similar infographics can be developed in other areas. E.g.

  • To illustrate the similarities and differences between two organisations being merged.
  • To highlight the areas in which you are at risk of being non-compliant.
  • To pinpoint the reasons why costs at the end of the year are so wide of those forecast.
  • To spot breaches in your IT network through which hackers may gain entry.

With the right infographics to hand, those who have to grapple with challenges such as these will be able to understand the issues and make decisions more quickly than they would without them.

And the task of creating them is becoming easier.

Not only are our comic book illustrators demonstrating how to create ‘a story on a plate’, but new technology, such as that used to explain the budget above, is making it much easier to turn the text and numbers within which the stories are buried into something clear, engaging, and elegant.

So, if our students are turning to comic book heroes to explain the inner workings of the body, or the finer points of mathematics, why shouldn’t our business leaders be able to do something similar.

Maybe there’s a different way to explain what’s in the 90 page company report.

And some very good technology is starting to appear.   Not another algorithm to replenish the fridge or add a song to a playlist, but something that can look into the vast lakes of text and numbers filling up within businesses and, using as few words as possible, explain what’s going on.

Paul Clarke
Develin Consulting

We have long experience of using visual methods to help teams to see what is going on within their business. If we can do the same for you, then please give us a ring.