Getting from here to there – how do we bring data visualisation to the masses?

I like a good infographic probably more than most and there are some great ones out there. When I see the beautifully crafted artwork, the way it brings the data behind it to life, I get very excited and my first thoughts are along the lines of ‘oooh, I’d like to do something like that’.

Then I realise, I’m not a designer, I’m not an artist and I can’t do anything more than the most basic of visualisations – maybe a decent bar chart but that’s about it – and I get very disappointed. I know….I can feel your sympathy from here 😉

But the fact is there is a massive gap between where most people are in their use of data visualisations and infographics, to where we might aspire to be some time in the future. I’m an enthusiast (albeit a very amateur one) and I’m struggling, so what chance have those even less familiar with the whole data visualisation agenda have?

We need to find some way to close this ‘aspiration gap’ between the way that ‘professionals’ can present data and how non-professionals can present it. It’s just not realistic to expect people to jump from a bar chart in MS Excel to a beautiful bespoke infographic….so what are the steps we need to take along that road in order to become more sophisticated in how we use and present data?

hooray for clip art

Hooray for clip art!

The analogy I’ve used in the past is to compare data visualisation with Clip Art.

I can still remember the excitement of suddenly being able to insert images into documents when clip art was first released in the mid-1990s. Since then it has become ubiquitous – to the point that most IT literate people wouldn’t be seen dead using stock images to be found in the standard clip art libraries. Our aspirations and expectations for using images in this way have greatly increased as a result of the introduction of a fairly basic tool. Of course there are still people, less familiar with using IT, who find clip art as useful and as liberating as I did when I first saw it. And so it continues to serve a purpose, even if norms have changed.It’s my belief that we need something similar to clip art for data visualisation. Some basic tools that people can dip their toes into and become more familiar with the process of interrogating and visualising data. Such tools may not pose a threat to the designers who feature on FastCoDesign’s infographic of the day (which btw, is always worth a look)…but they could be an important step towards more people becoming better at visualising their data. Of course this needs to be coupled with helping people to gain the skills and knowledge required to interrogate and analyse their data too, but that’s for another post.


data unityData Unity will soon be moving to a first (Alpha) prototype which we hope, over time, will start to fill some of this gap. Giving people a simple interface that will enable them to interrogate and visualise their data. Initially this will be through fairly basic infographics – like charts and diagrams – but it is our hope that over time, as people start to use it and contribute new visualisations, it will grow substantially.

Thank you to all those of you expressed interest in Data Unity and working with us to develop it into something that offers real value to VCS groups. Data Unity will only be as good as the quality of the ideas people contribute to it…whether you’re a data specialist, a developer, starting to explore how you can use data, or are just data curious, we’d love to hear from you.

And here is a lovely infographic by Ivan Cash on, errr, infographics….just cos, well, why not..



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