What drew you to information graphics and data visualization? I’ve been an avid reader of research studies, news publications and social literature for most of my adult life, so I’m no stranger to dry, long reports and articles. Too often, compelling data or information gets buried in lengthy wording, eclipsed by field-specific jargon, or hidden behind a passive bar graph or pie chart. Data cannot move or mobilize when it’s weighed down by superfluous or mundane content.
Nearly ten years ago, my belief in the power of data and my literary pet peeves drove me to start bridging the communication gap between data resources and the people who are most disenfranchised by that data’s concealment. “Access to information” had become my mantra early on in my design career, so naturally, I focused on cultivating my information design skills. I was drawn to information design because of its ability to supersede communication barriers. When data is visualized, it can communicate across language divides, energize stagnant content, create new opportunities for instant comprehension, renegotiate perceptions and so much more.
You hold workshops to teach people how to design infographics that inspire policy change. What led you to start giving these workshops? Our current political climate proves that numbers from accredited institutions aren’t enough to encourage responsible or progressive policy reform. Numbers need narrative, calls to action, assertive language, a thorough communication strategy and an overall tone that advocates to break through to the intended viewer. It is more important than ever that creatives are equipped with strategies for effective data storytelling that are well-grounded in conscious and responsible design principles.
Do you think the role of design in politics has changed in recent years? Absolutely. “Fake news” has created a need for infographics to be more direct and advocacy facing. Data visuals from research institutions will still be objective, but the days of objective infographics are over.
Service-based institutions across the country rely on data to secure government funding for crucial social programs and environmental initiatives. Passive reports will not sustain those funding streams, nor will they help rally support from communities. Infographics that end with passive conclusions to data sets diminish the weight and reality of the results of that data. For example, those results could be the dealmaker for the establishment of a needed affordable housing program over another individual-serving development project.
Creative director Tea Uglow said earlier this year that information is multidimensional because reality is in 3-D. In 2018, we cannot afford to forget the many dimensions of data and that it’s vulnerable to both misrepresentation as well as underrepresentation.
What have you learned about how human emotion can influence how we perceive data? Human emotion can influence how we perceive data, but more specifically, the true influencer is our perception of our experiences. Selective perception is the term that comes to mind. For example, All in the Family was a TV show that was written with the intent to mock the bigoted, entitled and ignorant citizens in America. The fictional character Archie Bunker was a potbellied layabout who openly discriminated against minorities and marginalized people. The show was an opportunity to create satire from the trauma of white male ignorant bliss. It was wildly popular among people who got the joke as well as with people who felt that he spoke to their personal views. All in all, selective perception was why the show was so successful. I believe that selective perception absolutely governs how people take in data. It’s impossible to divorce a viewer from their personal frame of reference.
Is all data fair game? No. If you are truly a data scientist who authentically cares about society, then you are mindful of how misrepresented data points exacerbate stereotypes and proliferate systemic issues that actively work against disenfranchised and vulnerable populations in America.
Have you ever made the decision not to use certain data? I’ve decided to not use certain data points in specific infographics because they were from faulty studies, aggravated selective perception, misrepresented the topic or were insensitive to the communities that the graphic was meant to serve.
What data set would you love to work with? I would love to work with opportunity cost data. Opportunity cost data are the economic arguments for equity, accountability, inclusion, diversity, flexibility, authentic collaboration and more. I believe that this sector of information could help change the minds of fiscal conservatives who have minimal implicit bias against marginalized people. I want to be a part of that revolution.
What does design activism look like to you today? It’s hopeful. The creatives I’ve met are not only seeking to design with purpose, but also want to enact accountability measures and inclusive collaboration in their work. Good intentions are never enough, and we’re starting to see a wave of designers who understand that.
How do you stay inspired? I’m in love with the playful spaces that are created when everyone’s needs are met and we are all seen and lovingly challenged to grow. I’m incredibly fortunate to have colleagues and friends who ground me and set me to the task of bringing my bravest aspirations to reality. I try very hard to be just as much of a brave safe-space maker as they are. It’s hard to lose creativity when you have the privilege to play in warm and mobilizing spaces.