'Efforts of Memory': Adventures in Presenting Statistics
Alan Smith, 28 February 2014
What should our goals be in presenting statistics? Is it possible to engage with a wide audience on statistical themes without dumbing down data? What roles can animation and interactivity play? Alan's talk kicked off our 2014 season of IDA evening events, providing a visual biography of the Data Visualisation Centre at the Office for National Statistics.
The talk title, "Efforts of Memory", was a reference to the storming of the Bastille (and to William Playfair who took part and invented the pie chart, bar chart, line chart and circle graph). The theme was that visualisations allow people to view data with a single "act of memory" rather than the many it takes to understand a table of numbers.
Alan's pictograms and scatter plots were a beautiful exposition of visualisations that show you things you're not expecting to see in the data. He talked about animated transitions that allow the viewer to follow data between different visual arrangements (referencing Jeffrey Heer and George G Robertson's paper). He aims first to "clarify" and second to "simplify", for example, a visual "anchor" (such as an outline of the start position in an animation, or a standard map next to a cartogram) to help the viewer to orient. Alan's concept of "emotional innumeracy" was a useful reminder that people can have quite inaccurate perceptions of statistical data
Alan Smith is Principal Methodologist (and Founder) of the Data Visualisation Centre at the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS). A cartographer by background, Alan has always been interested in the visual presentation of information. The work of his team focuses heavily on the opportunities offered by the web to produce rich, engaging content that promotes the use and understanding of statistics. Alan won the Royal Statistical Society Award for Excellence in Official Statistics in 2010 and was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to Official Statistics in the 2011 Queen's Birthday Honours List.
Alan is organising the graphical web conference in Winchester, England, 27–30 August 2014, with Visual Storytelling as its theme.