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Free from distraction and complexity

I used to think about graphic as “very cool”, which implies that it has good visual attraction. However, after listening to several weeks of lectures and reading the wonderfully easy-to-understand WSJ guide book, I changed my mind. Visuals are just a way to make things easier to comprehend, but not something that makes things prettier and sophisticated. So, in order to build good graphic, we just need to be free from distraction.

Zebra pattern, backward legend, grid lines, random lineup, 3-D pie chart, complicated or partial icons…… All these things can be really distracting when audiences are turning to graphic, trying to understand something that couldn’t be better explained in another way. It’s our responsibility to make things simple, clean, and easy to understand. Audiences want to make sense of the data in a visual way, and we should let them focus on that.

This graphic from New York Times is really difficult for me to understand, because of the multiple lines in the chart. I couldn’t really tell the difference among countries since some of the lines are just so close.

Aside from the distractions above, bold and unorganized color lines can also be terrible for reading a graphic. I sometimes will come across some bad graphics with multiple unrelated colors, but I usually see very good use of color on New York Times. It’s usually mild and harmonious and not distracting at all. For example:

I really like this map with a clean and clear illustration. Also in this graphic, there is a sidebar with pie chart, which seems to be violating the WSJ guideline I have just read, but I think it looks ok and I would take it as acceptable.

I think there are too many items in the pie chart, but it shows the dominate roles of Tanzania and Kenya, and at the same time included all the relevant countries.

Also one reason it looks nice and acceptable to me is the clean mark of each item. They used the dot line and very small font, and marked the specific number.

Also, the pie chart’s inner part is taken off, so it didn’t go in line with the WSJ guideline. I would agree with the WSJ guide this time, because the blank white in the middle didn’t add to the graphic, and didn’t really tell me anything. It’s kind of distracting, and I kept thinking why the graphic person did that.

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