If you want people to remember your chart, include a dinosaur
There's been a lot written about how to present data clearly, but less about a more basic point: How do you get people to remember that they ever even saw your graphic? Michelle Borkin, a graduate student at Harvard, recently published results of a nifty experiment that measured the memorability of different ways of presenting data. Borkin collected 2,070 data visualizations- bar charts, tables, diagrams, maps, etc.- and used Amazon's Mechanical Turk to test how well people could recall having seen each one. Study participants watched as data visualizations flashed across their computer screens, and they pressed a key every time they saw a visualization they'd seen before. The most memorable visualizations contained "human recognizable objects," were of a distinct type, and were colorful, with a low data-to-ink ratio. The least memorable visualizations were your garden variety bar charts, line graphs, and tables. All of this adds up to at least partial validation of the ongoing infographic craze, but as Borkin notes, memorability and effective data presentation are not the same thing: It's possible, for example, to remember that you once saw a graphic featuring a hemp leaf surrounded by colorful circles, without being able to explain tomorrow why pot smokers are skinny.
Most memorable data visualizations
Least memorable data visualizations
Images courtesy of Michelle Borkin.
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