Is creativity the secret of great data visualisation? Meeting report

On 12 February 2020, the RSS Business and Industrial Section Committee welcomed Robert Grant (BayesCamp and Data Sherpa) to speak about approaches to data visualisation. The ability to produce effective graphical presentations of data, models and predictions is generally regarded as a highly sought-after skill in business, academia and government.

The speaker began by discussing the main considerations that in his opinion need to be taken into account when working on data visualisations. These include data provenance, the target audience and its goals and needs, deciding whether visualisation displays data, statistics, or both, encoding variables, design and perception, storytelling, and user-testing. Some overarching principles and caveats in addressing these elements were presented and discussed, and a range of examples was used as a practical demonstration of those.

It was then stressed that being both methodological and creative, as well as employing plenty of practice is key to effective graphical presentation of data, models and predictions. The speaker maintained that it may be very useful to think about design before picking up implementation tools and software packages ('Stop! Don’t switch on your computer.') Approaching design the other way round may not be as efficient, as the initially chosen tool/methodology may be restricting us in adopting a fully creative perspective by imposing predefined frameworks/presets. It was also emphasised that an iterative approach to design and user-testing are an integral part of improving the design’s quality and ensuring its suitability.

The audience was offered examples of some published data visualisations (both in academic literature and media) and challenged to come up with quick-fire ideas for various scenarios in which these could be changed or improved.

This was a highly interactive talk that aimed to promote both methodological and creative thinking for communicating data visually in a clear and accessible fashion.

The talk was preceded by the 238th ordinary meeting of the RSS Business and Industrial Section Committee.

Written by Andrei Bejan on 14 February 2020.

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