DVR Week: Amy Germuth on Using Visual Design Principles

……When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

– John Keats ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’

Hi, I am Amy Germuth, president and founder of EvalWorks LLC and author of the blog EvalThoughts. Most recently I have been nominated as co-chair with Stephanie Evergreen of the new Data Visualization and Reporting (DVR) TIG.

John Keats, in Ode to a Grecian Urn notes that ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’. For me, data are meant to represent the truth as close as possible (given measurement error, confidence intervals, etc.) and the representation of data in graphs, charts, figures, maps, etc. have always had the potential to be art (think of the data displays that result from social network analysis or the fractals produced by certain equations). Unfortunately, too often we pay more attention to what we write than what we chart, graph, and draw, leaving it impossible to determine what we are meant to understand or conclude from viewing such a data display.

Hot Tip #1: Mistakes commonly made when displaying data include the following:

  • What the data represent/mean is not clear.
  • Which data are most important is not clear.
  • The reason(s) for the use of specific graph/table used to display the data is/are not clear.
  • There is too much data crammed in a table/graph.
  • There is too little data – it does not need a table/graph.
  • Colors are not used with meaning, leaving data displays looking like ransom notes.

Hot Tip #2: Using visual design principles we can better:

  1. Organize the data;
  2. Highlight the data; and
  3. Better integrate tables, graphs, and text.

from Show me The Numbers, Stephen Few – p. 117

Rad Resource #1: Look to this post from the Information Aesthetics blog for great information on, What is data visualization?, How can it be explained through a visual diagram?, and Can data visualization be… visualized? to help you think about data visualization in general.

Rad Resource #2: Stephen Few, a data visualist whose motto is “elegance through simplicity”, blogs about data visualization regularly at Read how he takes data visualization to the next level through simplifying and deleting unnecessary information.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Data Visualization and Reporting Week with our colleagues in the new DVR AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our DVR members and you may wish to consider subscribing to our weekly headlines and resources list where we’ll be highlighting DVR resources. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice.

2 thoughts on “DVR Week: Amy Germuth on Using Visual Design Principles”

  1. At my work I try to do everything with an idea. I don`t like an accidental desisions. Great article! Everything have to be with a concept even graphs, charts, figures, maps.

  2. Alicia Moag-Stahlberg

    Thanks for covering this topic – I have been doing my own search/research in this area for over a year trying to find good ways to represent data — AEA has done more for me in a month than I did last year solo – great ideas and links. Here is one I found from another someone had posted: has a great periodic table and supporting article that is like a dictionary of types of visual tools. I found a link to someone who has categorized the diagrams and it is really helpful to review as I try to get ideas.

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