Establishing Truth Through Visual Data

Lisa Kilborn, July 9, 2018

People can have a hard time accepting facts – especially ones that contradict beliefs.

How’s the job market doing? How have global temperatures shifted over the past few decades? Which populations responding to new health care initiatives? Are people using a particular new technology?

Uninformed responses to fact-based questions like these can be colored by bias that’s hard to budge. At the same time, those misperceptions can get in the way of gaining support for progress. Whether you’re making policy, pitching your entrepreneurial idea to investors, or trying to compel potential customers to do business with your organization, you need people to support your efforts.

A first critical step is making sure your audience accepts your foundational facts. But how do you fix misperceptions when people misunderstand – or even reject – the truth?

The Washington Post cites multiple studies showing that visualized data like charts, graphs, and illustrations are significantly more effective at changing minds than information in text form. It seems people have an easier time understanding data when they can actually picture it rather than read about it. “If you want to change minds, in other words, show them a chart, not a wall of text.”

We couldn’t agree more. Data comes alive and becomes highly compelling when you give it visual form and substance. A chart can communicate very directly and succinctly what you might need a dense paragraph to describe in text form. Of course, text still serves an important role– use narrative to help people interpret your data, and to make your case for whatever you want or need them to do next.

Here are two examples from our own portfolio:

The OBGYN Department at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center wanted to clearly show their declining rate of cesarean births as one measure of their leadership in labor and delivery care. You only need a quick glance at this graphic in their 2017 Annual Report to clearly see the overall rate decreasing: 

Sometimes using the same graphic over time can also tell a strong story. Ariadne Labs has updated this graphic in multiple annual reports to show their programs’ ongoing progress and significant global impact as their young organization has evolved. This graphic uses thoughtful, easy-to-understand visuals and very limited copy to demonstrate the effectiveness of multiple efforts across a range of measures.

What big points are you trying to demonstrate? What misperceptions do you need to correct?

Maybe we can help.