An Introduction to the Psychology of Data Visualization

Everything commercially presented to us has been carefully thought out.  Whether we realize it or not, billions of dollars have been spent to help the presenter gain maximum effect in their delivery.  These things can include movies, commercials, billboards, company logos,  item packaging and even the paint colors used in stores.  We have seen companies like Microsoft spend millions studying colors.

“The right color can be worth $80 million – at least that’s what’s been said about search engine Bing’s blue link. A few years ago, Microsoft’s research team found that blue engaged people the most, so they tested various shades of blue in user groups – and determined that Bing’s previous shade of blue (a paler hue) lacked confidence. So, instead of reinventing the color wheel they used a shade of blue quite similar to the one used by Google. Based on user feedback, it is estimated Bing’s blue could generate $80 million to $90 million in advertising sales.”

Jill Morton, Finding The Right Shade Of Blue Can Be Worth $80 Million


Comparison of the two blues

These companies know that there is more to presentation than chance or a favorite color.  There is verifiable science.  They are leaving nothing to chance, and neither should we.

Whenever we think about data visualization, we may immediately think about pie charts (or not using them), spark lines,  dashboards, KPIs or even Few vs Tufte.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I want to go a bit further than that.  I want to help us make better visualizations by understanding the psychology behind what we are doing.  Do you understand why people say not to use pie charts?  Do you know why you should use this color and not this color for that situation?  Do you know why you should use x number of KPIs or keep dashboards simple?

Data visualization is truly an art, but that art is heavily influenced by science.  As a fan of psychology, I want to explore the psychology behind visualization.  One of the things I bring up in my talk is how we as humans are built to understand the world visually.  We need to make sure that we are maximizing our physiological advantage.

A picture is only worth a thousand words when the visualization makes sense.

Over time, we will cover everything from the innate meaning of colors  to how they make you feel to positive and negative priming.  We will go in depth in the Gestalt principals and dive into Gestalt psychology.  We will tackle your input as well, so if you want to see more of one particular thing or even have recommendations on what to cover, feel free to contact me and we will make it happen.  This journey is community driven.  Where we go, we will go together.

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