This is the best way to think of the psychology of how we like to absorb information as humans…well, sort of. Our species has been communicating with drawings for 32,000 years (at least), while reading and writing words are much more recently acquired skills (and still not universal). Why is this important?
One might argue that with the information age, we’re actually taking a turn back toward our ancestral, purely visual selves. After all, what draws your eye in your social feed or in a business meeting? Is it text or images? Right. The more visual the information is, the more quickly we can absorb it and move onto the next thing. We’re moving away from focused study to retrieve information and more toward the laziness (or genius?) of receiving information in blips.
For people who plan things, this basic realization is critical to ensuring that all of the people you need to communicate to are receiving the information they need in a manner that they can most easily absorb. Research suggests that since the year 2000, the average adult attention span has been reduced to 8 seconds. If we consider this amazingly short period of focus, then the importance of strong visual communications becomes obvious.
Here is a very simple example to strengthen the point:
My goal was to communicate “square.” What does that best?
Data Visualization is a relatively new term coined to capture the ability to represent data visually, in an effort to provide information to readers in the most clear and efficient manner possible. Think the modern equivalent of the pictograph, a.k.a. the caveman drawing.
New software tools are being released on a regular basis that focus on data visualization. And application providers that previously paid lip-service to their visualization and reporting modules are now dedicating more resources to this area, due to its natural and increasing growth inimportance for company leadership.
Data visualization allows you to avoid putting a bunch of text in front of someone when you are presenting information. The text becomes more of a back-pocket reference, descriptor, or an appendix item — and the visuals, which have been produced with the data using software, are in the forefront and drive the conversation or presentation.
If you’re not aware of the growing importance of data visualization, you should be. Many industries have relied upon it for years (Oil and Gas, Pharmaceuticals, Aerospace, and many more). It’s the cutting edge of how we will work with data in the not-too-distant future. Not just for reporting, but for analytical and practical purposes as well. Ever looked at your personal spending broken down for you on an application like Mint? Data Viz.
The next time you’re responsible for communicating anything to anyone in your business, or maybe even at home, it may be worth a quick Internet search to find out if someone can help you do it better with an existing solution.
8 seconds? No problem.