A highly skilled data analyst once said to me:
“I don’t get infographics, I don’t see the point, why are we using them?”
I can understand why she felt like that, she knew that data inside out, could identify unusual trends, and was so fluent in the norm she was able to recognise outliers and exceptions. Her audience were also familiar with the information, they had been reporting and reviewing it for years. For her, nothing else was needed. I however, had been ask to contemplate how we would deliver the story to a wider audience, one not familiar with the subject.
Trying to explain, I can refer back to a situation that happened to me a few months ago. Stood in front of a ticket machine in Frankfurt train station, on my way to get my flight home, I had the machine set to English as my German is not strong, but I realised that this didn’t change the station names. In a rush and a bit of a panic I tried to remember what the German for airport was so that I could type it into the search. Snatching a look at the departures board I see my salvation, not the name but that little plane next to it, announcing clearly the name of my sought after destination.
Not being fluent in the language, I needed the graphic.
Just like it’s difficult to teach someone how to do a job you do every day, understanding how to explain a data set you are fluent in, to someone who isn’t, can be challenging.
You need to step outside of your knowledge to breakdown the story for a different audience, sometimes an unknown audience. You have to see it from their perspective.
Just like Denzel Washington in the film Philadelphia saying,
“Explain this to me like I’m a two year old ok, ‘cause there’s an element to this thing that I just can’t get through my thick head”
His character (a lawyer) knows that his client and his client’s bosses (also lawyers) need to give evidence in a way that a jury will understand, cutting out the “lawyerspeak”. He makes them think about how they communicate the information.
Interestingly, speaking to a lawyer the other day, I found out that one of the most useful tools during trials are infographics (trial or litigation graphics). They are used not just to present the information but to tell the story, engaging people and making them, not just see the data but care about it.
This is why we use the language of infographics.