Jul 3, 2023
3 min

The Psychology Behind Effective Data Visualization

PlotSet teamwriter

The role of effective data visualization

With the advent and growth of technology, the data pool around us has been growing more and more every day to the point that we are nearly surrounded by it everywhere. It's good news because we can now access data related to almost any field, making it much easier to draw meaningful insights. 

On a more cynical note, working with raw data and complicated algorithms could be quite challenging for some people. That is why data visualization is an effective way to understand complex data, which happens to be super essential for many fields. But have you ever wondered why some data visualization resonate with us more than others?

The answer lies in our psyche, and we are about to explore the compelling interplay between human psychology and visual communication. Read on to find out more.

The power of visual perception

Visual Stimuli have a profound impact on our cognitive processes and understanding of information. Our brain is highly aware of visual cues and patterns. As a result, our visual perception is one of our fundamental abilities to interpret and make sense of the world around us. 

Our brains are naturally wired to process visual information more effectively than numerical data. Presenting data visually means tapping into our innate ability to recognize patterns, identify relationships, and extract insights. 

Understanding the power of visual perception allows us to create memorable visualizations and facilitate decision-making. How you might ask. By aligning with our natural cognitive processes and leveraging visual cues.

The importance of pre-attentive attributes

Utilizing pre-attentive attributes such as color, size, and shape contribute a lot to effective communication. These attributes facilitate quick comprehension and convey meaningful insights. Using them effectively can greatly enhance the impact and effectiveness of data visualization.

Let's look at some of these attributes:

  • color

Distinct colors help viewers easily differentiate and interpret the data. Colors can also evoke emotions and create a visual hierarchy. It can be useful in guiding the viewer's focus toward specific insights. Note that it would be better to keep the colors harmonious and aligned with the intended message.

  • Size

Various sizes of visual elements can represent quantitative values or emphasize important data points. Larger sizes tend to attract more attention, while smaller sizes can indicate less significance. Using the right size in visualization helps viewers grasp relative differences and patterns within the data.

  • Shape

Geometric shapes, icons, or custom symbols can represent distinct categories or concepts.

  • Combination of attributes

Combining the above-mentioned attributes enhance data communication by creating visual cues that guide the viewer's attention.

Gestalt Principles: Creating Meaningful Patterns

There are some fundamental principles in psychology that explain how humans perceive and interpret visual information, and they are called Gestalt principles. These principles help designers create meaningful patterns and enhance viewer engagement. The following principles are among the primary ones:

  • Proximity

Objects that are close to each other in space are perceived as belonging together. In data visualization, grouping related data elements or visual components in close proximity helps viewers perceive them as a cohesive unit or category.

  • Similarity

Elements that share similar visual attributes, such as color, shape, size, or texture, are perceived as belonging together. Similarity guides the viewers to quickly identify the patterns within the data. 

  • Closure

Individuals tend to perceive incomplete or fragmented objects as complete by mentally filling in the missing parts. In data visualization, you can use simple elements or graphical representations, implying a whole or a complete shape. 

  • Continuity

The tendency of individuals to perceive lines, curves, or patterns as continuous and smooth even when they are interrupted or intersected by other elements. You can use smooth lines or curves to connect related data points or align visual elements along a common axis.

Enhancing data communication using storytelling

To have a profound impact on human perception and understanding, you can use storytelling. By adding some sort of storytelling to data visualization, you can create cohesive and compelling narratives that capture the attention of the viewers. It also guides the viewer through a sequence of information.

Emotional engagement and empathy

On its own, data may not evoke an emotional response. However, effective data visualization can bring up the audience's attention and emotions. To create a deeper connection between the data and the viewer, you can incorporate visual cues that evoke empathy, such as relatable visuals, personal stories, or depictions of real-world impact.

Understanding cognitive biases and mitigating their influence

Cognitive biases significantly influence data interpretation and decision-making. That is why it is essential to understand common biases for data visualizers so that they can make thoughtful design choices to mitigate their impact. You might wonder how you can overcome such biases. You can:

  1. Present data in multiple formats,
  2. Provide context,
  3. And encourage critical thinking.

The power of visual comparisons

If you wish to highlight insights and trends in data visualization, you should make use of visual comparisons. Visual cues like scales, colors, and sizes can effectively showcase differences and similarities. They help the viewers make informed comparisons and draw meaningful conclusions. They also contribute to overcoming biases that may arise from numerical interpretations alone.

Final note

It is one thing to create data visualization, but it is an entirely different thing to create one that leaves an impact. To create an effective data visualization, you need to obtain an understanding of human psychology and cognition. The above-mentioned factors help you unlock the true potential of data to make informed decisions and improve your worldview simultaneously.

We, the PlotSet team, are enthusiastic to spice up your storytelling world using data visualization, and we will show you how to do so through various blogs. If you’re into data journalism or you just want to present your data to an audience, we strongly suggest taking a look at what we have prepared for you here. Enjoy reading!

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