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Repetition, repetition: The power of multiples

Posted by on Feb 9, 2010 in Blog, class, tufte | No Comments

Teachers are true heroes in today’s society, I owe so much to almost every one that I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. As the daughter of an elementary school teacher, and from teaching some classes on my own, I know that repetition is a key part of passing knowledge from your brain to my brain. And if you think about it, so much of what we do as journalists is a form of teaching, as we inform the public. That’s why repetition can be a very valuable technique in data visualization, and Tufte devoted a chapter to it in this week’s reading, titled “Multiples in Space and Time.”

We see it used often in graphics, by juxtaposing the same object against other versions of the same object, we’re better able to compare and focus on the distinctions. If we’re trying to make a point with a graphic or an article, repetition helps to make sure it’s something the user is thinking about.

It’s a strategy used in this graph featured in Junk Charts, looking at the participation of people on Twitter in terms of percent. By keeping the unit used in a visualization consistent, you are keeping that variable constant.  But make that icon interesting enough, and people will care a little bit more than just looking at the height of a bar graph. Tufte says don’t frame the different instances, but let the objects speak for themselves.  Keep it simple.

It’s all about simplicity, and the balance between aesthetically pleasing the user and ensuring an accurate display of information.  And if only one is possible, the latter must take priority.

I’m definitely considering using this as a strategy in the visualization I’m doing for my final project.  It’s still in the beginning stages, since I’ve been creating my own database from scratch.

And on a side note, I just took this career test where you pick colors and it tells you what you are best suited for.  It says I am an “organizer” and I am best suited — wait for it — to work with “data systems.”  Weird.

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