The popularity and impact of data visualizations has increased dramatically over a relatively short space of time. Google Trends shows a near 100% increase in search frequency for data visualizations since 2009, and we have seen a multitude of tools and software become available, allowing almost anyone to create data visualizations with relative ease.
We are instinctively more drawn to images than text, as the brain is able to process images at a far quicker rate. However, this doesn’t mean you can just throw together a mass of images and shapes onto a dashboard and expect to wow your audience. Much like the cognitive aspects behind our attraction to images, there are other inherent – and to some extent, subconscious – behaviors that become relevant. One of those is first impressions.
We all know the saying: first impressions last a lifetime. But how much truth is there behind it? Well, as it turns out; quite a lot. Similar to the instinctive fight or flight response, humans perform an act of unconscious thinking called rapid cognition; more instinctual and quicker than the deliberate decision-making style of thinking we are accustomed to. Rapid cognition is our ability to dig deeper and gauge what is really important from a very short experience. As much as we’re told to never judge a book by its cover, this ability to rapidly parse through large amounts of information and decide what’s most important without engaging in slower, more rational ways of thinking is something we do every day.
Psychologists call the phenomenon ‘thin-slicing’: perceiving details or information within seconds that might take months or years of evaluation with the rational part of the mind. Malcolm Gladwell describes it as the following:
Thin-slicing is not an exotic gift. It is a central part of what it means to be human. We thin-slice whenever we meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly… …we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of situations where careful attention to the details, even for no more than a second, can tell us an awful lot.
The good news is, you’re able to change and disprove any false first impressions someone may have of you as they get to know you. Online, however, this is much more difficult as our attention spans are at record lows. With it being more difficult than ever to arrest your reader’s attention, you can’t afford to let bad first impressions get in the way of your data visualizations – especially when the message that’s buried deeper is well worth exploring.
To prevent this, we’re going to discuss 5 of the most common mistakes to avoid when it comes to visualizing different types of data.