Misled and Misconstrued

In every science class and every math class I’ve ever been in, the scale of the graph being looked at has been stressed heavily. You need to understand the breadth of what you’re talking about, need to understand the frame of reference and what the symbols you’re looking at actually mean. In “Data Points: Visualization That Means Something”, author Nathan Yau was discussing how to both represent data and explore the data from a visual standpoint.

As a result of the many classes I’ve taken involving graphs, I have always understood that looking at the scale of something is pertinent to deciphering the information displayed. However, I’d never thought about something as trivial as coloring.

If I make a graphic design, and for a class I’m currently in, I am making graphic designs, I have to consider that there might be colorblind people. It never occurred to me before that my data could be misread or would be difficult to decipher due to something as simple as color choices.

There’s also the fact that geographic maps and charts are misleading simply by being on a flat surface. No matter what I use, the data I choose to represent geographically will be misconstrued to some extent. For example, there is an actual Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality, and there’s a video linked that will poke fun at the map-makers but it also brings to light that maps and data distort how we see the world, how we think and our ingrained ideals from even the youngest of ages.

Seriously, there’s a reason we think about things the way we do, and it’s because we’re a society of quick moves. The quickest way to portray data? Graphically. There can be pie charts that if no one looks at closely enough, add up to less than, or more than, 100 percent. That’s clearly misleading, but unless we take the time, we’d never notice, our perception of a topic being skewered as a result.

So how do we, as individuals and  decide how we see information? Who decides and what gives them the right to decide? Why do we give authority to these people we’ve never met to interpret and display data that shapes our lives? What if the data is put into to the wrong visual aid? What if the best way to display the data is biased by someone’s opinion? What if there is a even more correct way?

Our lives depend on data and how we see it represented. Visual data shape our perceptions of the whole world. The task of being the designer of the visual display should not be taken lightly, correct? So why don’t we know more about who has control over these displays of data?

About Olivia Henley

Marine Sciences
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