Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Graphicacy = Visual Literacy + Visual Thinking

Source: ASIDE, 2012

As schools increasingly look outside of their common cores to pinpoint skills for global competitiveness, they recognize the need to educate students beyond the written text. This curricular expansion can at times encounter uncertainty over instructional fads versus educational scholarship. For example, questions occasionally arise about where the skills of graphicacy converge with the similar sounding terms of "visual literacy" and "visual thinking."

Visual literacy is about learning how to look. It involves learning how to internalize and deconstruct the images that the brain sees. It involves input.  

Visual thinking is about learning how to design. It involves imagining graphic representations of new or traditional concepts based on the mind's unique creation. It involves output.

Graphicacy, therefore, is the union of the two acuities. It marries the essential skills of decoding and encoding to embrace a range of pictorial proficiencies. Due to technology and media, today's visual kinetics demand a firm grounding in the illustrative arts.

In "Just In Time For Big Data: Graphicacy Levels On The Rise," Anne Milley of the International Institute For Analytics reinforces the need for graphicacy skills amid the burgeoning age of "Big Data." She emphasizes that data visualizations typically require more analysis (and, therefore, more training) than information visualizations. She acknowledges, "it is good to see that we are poised to take greater advantage of our amazing visual bandwidth through more graphic encoding of data."

Source: ASIDE, 2012

The charts and graphs that Milley champions have been key mathematical tools for generations, but they have not always made their way into other disciplines. Today's infographics, for example, sometimes blur the line between "pure" data charts and what Edward Tufte derides as "chartjunk" (i.e., unnecessary ornamentation that serves no communicative purpose). A 2010 white paper out of the University of Saskatchewan, however, pushes back on this notion of visual purity.

"Useful Junk? The Effects Of Visual Embellishment On Comprehension And Memorability Of Charts" (Bateman, Mandryk, Gutwin, Genest, McDine, & Brooks) suggests that the cleanest form of data design may not always be the most useful. This thesis gently insists that elaborations to stark graphs do offer value. For example, there is a difference between a standard bar chart of corporate earnings and an infographic of McDonald's annual revenue depicted as a series of french fries sticking out of a container. The first focuses solely on the raw numbers, while the second combines the data with branding associations, visual mnemonics, color and logo cues, and even emotional connections.

This excellent slideshow from Andy Kirk of Visualising Data reminds us above all else why graphicacy matters. In "The 8 Hats of Data Visualisation," Kirk recounts the design process and the mindset of creating great graphics.
For more information, please check out our other posts on graphicacy.


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