Must the creation of excellent data visualizations be solely relegated to UI and graphic designers?


Posted by Paloma Medina

Just when I thought my obsession with data visualizations was over, I come across a new gem.  Up until this point, my fan-dom had been focused on admiring finished products, like Hans Rosling’s Gapminder or GE’s Healthymagination Stats of the Union. However, what next interested me was how to bring this tool to the masses. My question was, “Must the creation of excellent data visualizations be solely relegated to UI and graphic designers?” As it turns out, no, it does not. There is a tool that democratizes the creation of data visualization:

Many Eyes: An experiment based on IBM research.

Many Eyes is an online tool that democratizes data visualization by allowing anyone, regardless of design or coding background, to turn data into visual information that is so much more than bar graphs and pie charts.  In addition, the site includes a browsing function and discussion forum that fosters collaborative learning.

Created in 2007, the site features pre-loaded data sets as well as the ability to upload your own set. Once you’ve selected what data you want to work with, you have more than a dozen options for how to organize your data. This is where it gets interesting. The beauty of the site isn’t just that you can create these amazing visual representations, it’s that you can play around and see how the same data translates depending on which type of visualizing model you choose. This means that non-designers can learn by doing what makes some data visualizations work and others not, depending on the data you’re working with.

The exciting thing about all of this is that tools such as Many Eyes will allow us to move towards a day when data visualization can benefit from crowd sourcing the way other fields have. What if Many Eyes was to health data what Flickr is to photographs?

Explore the site, let me know what you think and what potential you think it could have in your own health work.

Paloma Medina is an MPA HPAM 2012 candidate with a specialization in organizational coaching and development. Her background is in homeless health care, community development and design.


How Healthcare Can Benefit from Good Design


Posted by Paloma Medina

Good design can create the foundation for health professionals to be on the same page.

In my previous post, I delved into the use of infographics and data visualizations in healthcare, with an emphasis on the patient as the audience. In this segment, we’ll explore how design can help get health professionals on the same page and on the road to productive collaboration.

Good design captures their attention: The first step in having health teams that hold common goals and strategy is to first get everyone on the same page about facts. Information dissemination for front-line workers and providers is a difficult task however because they are largely a mobile work force whose main roles keep them away from personal computer stations. More so than other professions, they are less likely to have the time to read through informational emails and text memos. Enter good design: A well-designed poster in the elevator, for example, trumps an email in two ways:

1. It brings the message to the place where they staff have time to absorb it

2. It captures staff’s attention and holds on to it just long enough to deliver the message

Smart design can thus engage the mind even when the message would otherwise be  less-than-exciting.

Good design rallies and inspires: Well-designed infographics, posters, etc. stimulate more than just one part of our brain. Within seconds, a great design can make us smile, enrage us, make us feel sadness and empathy, or just fill us with wonder and inspiration. By evoking emotions in us, the right visual language has the ability to motivate us towards action — action that could be anything from re-thinking our work flows to something as simple as reading an entire poster about medication side affects. This type of motivation and emotional engagement is what we need to get staff talking and caring about key health care issues.  Once staff are emotionally engaged, the hard work of creating shared visions, goals and game plans is, well, a little less hard.

Examples of good design with health professionals in mind:

The Unknown Killer
Another in a series from GE’s Healthymagination, this time in partnership with the creative agency JESS3.  A poster of this kind is a perfect platform from which to build buy-in around a performance improvement initiative. The design is instantly engaging — it’s use of color is lively and the design is clean. The effect is a poster that makes hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) interesting to read about – quite an accomplishment indeed! An improvement to this poster might be to have icons or imagery that highlight the comparison between HAI deaths and breast and prostate cancer deaths – a powerful fact that could use an equally powerful graphic besides a bar graph.

Fosamax: Just the Facts

An excellent example of how a poster can pack a wallop of information without overwhelming the senses – this “Just the Facts” poster is aimed at updating providers on new information on a medication (in this case, it was for a medication that was in pre-recall stages).

Why this poster works:

- The color palette is calming and simple: Blues and beiges are the only colors used — shading and text size are instead used to bring key items forward and move secondary information to the back

- Icons are used to build empathy: The usual text heavy, small-font list of side-effects in medication ads and pamphlets dehumanizes the effect that these symptoms have on patients’ lives. Providers are more likely to consider the implications of side effects on their individual patients when imagery is used. A great example of the power of images is the simple but emotive “Stomach pain” icon.

What’s Happening on a Night Shift?

Arm nurses and health professionals with information, follow it up with empowering quality improvement infrastructure, and you have a recipe for targeted performance improvement. This night shift infographic uses three-dimensional illustration to “walk” the viewer through the dangers on the night shift.  There are some flaws in the poster design — some numbers are confusing as to what they relate to and the flow chart could be much clearer. That said, this is still a great example of how we can turn data into a story by contextualizing the information into a place or scenario. This results in increased engagement, information comprehension and retention for the viewer.


Relating back to our work: What information-rich message do we have that needs to be conveyed to providers? Would investing in a few poster prototypes result in something that busy staff members would be more likely to feel engaged with? As a side benefit, could a well-designed poster add color and contribute to a better aesthetic in staff areas, rather than the posting of drab memos?

We do not need to hire a designer or firm to create great materials — we can move away from text-only communication to a design approach by simply learning from this field (or collaborating with it) and incorporating the successful elements of good design into in-house created pamphlets, posters, and web pages.

Next Up: In my next post, I’ll share some example of health infographics and data visualizations that target health policy makers and analysts as the key audience.

Paloma Medina is an MPA HPAM 2012 candidate with a specialization in organizational coaching and development. Her background is in homeless health care, community development and design.