Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Visual Understanding

Each idea requires a very specific amount of information. Some ideas may require a lot of information, while others may be conveyed with something as simple as a dot or a line. If there is an imaginary scale on which one end is complete photorealism, and the other end is total abstraction, each idea can be best conveyed by placing it at one point on this scale. Too much information will muddle the message a graphic intends to deliver, and too little will of course make the graphic useless.

In The Functional Art, A. Cairo briefly explains why we use clear, simple illustrations. As humans, we have somewhat limited mental resources. Once our eyes carry an illustration to our forethought, our mind gets to work picking it apart, discerning what it can from the proportions and symbolism of the illustration, and comparing what it finds to similar structures in our memory. Our mind can only do so many things simultaneously. To quicken the speed of understanding, a graphic artist can remove any pieces of the illustration which do not directly lead to understanding. An example given in the book suggests that if a graphic is intended to show how to open an aircraft door, the textures in people's clothing is extraneous, and can be removed.

Charts can be made more readable by keeping the count of types of objects low. Research suggests that our fastest memory can only hold counts of to seven. A chart or data visualization can be made easier to comprehend by keeping the number of types of elements low. For instance, if encoding by color, a chart with five colors is preferred to a chart with ten, so that the reader does not need to constantly refer to the legend. In many cases, it may be appropriate to split a chart into multiple pieces to reduce the required memory for each chart.


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