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Blog / 23.09.2019

Do Decent Data Design

Do Decent Data Design
Jason MacKellin
Graphic Designer
2 min read

A means of making you re-think your data design.

The importance of decent data design is not really a debateable topic. Why is that may you ask… Well you are in luck! As I will be giving you a few examples to mull over. Hopefully the next time you are in need of infographics or a creative way to explain some critical data in relation to your individual business or personal matter, this blog piece might make you more aware of the need to display data in a legible, digestible and understandable way.

In the year 2000 the designer on Florida’s general election created a questionable ballot paper later dubbed the ‘butterfly’ ballot. The design itself (as seen below) left a majority of the voters in that election wondering if they had voted for the right candidate. As you can see the candidates for the election were divided into sections, each of those sections were then allotted a puncture hole with an arrow pointing at which candidate is to be elected. Simple, right? The problem with this, was, the holes were so close together and the information conveyed to the general public was not given in a digestible manner (typography cramped into a small confined space, full capital letters used to for names and puncture holes placed very close to one another). This made for a very confused average joe/voter. To say that doing decent data design is an understatement, I believe, in this case is correct. If this was designed in a more clear and concise way the country may be in a different and possibly better place…

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Florida's “butterfly" ballot for the 2000 U-S-Presidential election confused a lot of voters - Credit - Wikipedia

Moving away from politics, let’s look at something more fatal. On January the 28th, 1986, the space shuttle ‘challenger’ went down killing seven of it’s seven crew members. Despite the engineers knowing that there were flaws in its design they were unable to convey those flaws to their superiors to cancel the launch despite their efforts. The infographics displayed from the engineers were later displayed to have sloppy typography, the icons of rockets obscuring key numbers and the critical information of the o-rings were ordered by launch date rather than their critical information - temperature!

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Data chart the engineers showed their superiors.
source: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qkvvg5/how-mistakes-were-made

Below is an amended data visualisation from the Rogers Commission. This shows more clearly and accurately the data that the engineers failed to communicate.

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Rogers Commission’s visualisation.
source: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qkvvg5/how-mistakes-were-made

If these two examples don’t make you realise the importance of good data design – I don’t know what will. As Per Mollerup says in his book Data Design: Visualising Quantities, Locations, Connections the key qualities of good data design is accuracy, simplicity and clarity. It’s not about data decoration, it’s about making sure that the data is conveyed to the user in a digestible, legible and understandable way.


For examples of good data design, please check out some of these resources:

- https://informationisbeautiful.net/

- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Zg-C8AAIGg

- Data Design: Visualising Quantities, Locations, Connections by Per Mollerup https://www.amazon.com/Data-Design-Visualising-Quantities-Connections/dp/1408191873

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