New data visualization book: Know thy audience

When it comes to data visualization, meaning is in the eye of the beholder. For this reason, knowing your audience is critical for creating data visualizations that fulfill their purpose. “It’s a tall order,” said TDAI affiliate Elliot Bendoly. “It’s very easy to put together a visual rendering for yourself, as a person who knows the data, that wouldn’t make sense to a person who doesn’t.”

Elliot Bendoly

Elliot Bendoly

A distinguished professor of management sciences and associate dean of undergraduate students and programs at the Fisher College of Business, Bendoly is co-editor of a new textbook, Visual Analytics for Management: Translational Science and Applications in Practice, with Sacha Clark of American University.

Bendoly, who has done research on the ways people’s academic backgrounds determine their interpretation of data, said some of the case studies featured in the book show the importance of consulting with representatives of the user audience to confirm the presentation of the data makes as much sense to that population as it does to its creator.

“When you’re trying to come up with a solution when your audience is in one field and you’re in another, it’s very easy to come up with a product that doesn’t make sense to anyone but you,” he said.

The first few chapters of the book cover the history and science of data visualization; the rest is case studies, each covering a data visualization need, the solutions attempted, and the final product.

Visual Analytics for Management addresses a gap in the existing literature, said Bendoly. “They don’t tell you much about how to solve your own data visualization problem. It’s great to see what’s possible, but the question is, how do we make it happen for our context?” The book also combines Gestalt theory of design with psychological principles. “I think we’re going to see an increasing interest in a dialogue between psychology and design.”

Read an annotated except

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