The way data is presented visually can make a huge impact on how powerful it is to the end consumer. It is important for designers to consider how they design graphs and infographics when presenting data in reports etc. for this very reason.

Let me explain by using some examples. Let’s pretend that 20% of the Australian population has a fictitious medical condition. This first visual shows a traditional pie graph and a bar graph representing this data. Neither make this condition look like something I have to really be that concerned about.

This next visual uses an infographic of people with the affected portion shown in red. By adding a human element suddenly the data looks a bit more significant.

If I go a step further and present this data as a ratio (1 in 5) rather than showing it as 20% or 20 in 100 it starts to look like something I need to worry about.

When I take the original pie graph and place it next to one of the US and UK, who don’t have such a high incidence of this medical condition then Australia starts to look like it has a serious issue.

In these examples the objective was to make the data seem more significant. Comparisons can also be used to downplay significance. For example, in the visual below I have chosen to compare the data against two countries that have a much higher incidence of the ficticious medical condition. Suddenly the prevelance of this condition in Australia doesn’t seem so bad.

The method by which data is visually presented can have a huge impact on how it is interpreted. For organisations trying to get donations or support, the design of the graphs may be enough to sway someone to help you out. Something to think about next time you need a graph – or even next time you ‘read’ one.