Reading #6

Connecting with the Dots

By Jacob Harris

All of this has made me wonder what other approaches people have used to anchor their graphics in empathy. I investigated a few techniques that data journalists have used to connect readers with the dots. These aren’t just specific to tragedies like war and disaster, they’re important for any datasets we are using to report data about from people or that affects people (i.e., pretty much every dataset).

read the essay here

  1. Is it unethical to focus only on the “zoomed out” portion of a data set? If individual-specific data isn’t available, is it worthwhile to focus only on the macrocosmic view?

  2. “Still, we have guides to inform us when to use a bar chart vs. a scatter plot vs. a pie chart. Would a similar guided approach work for interactives we feel are too emotionless?”
    • Is the goal of a data visualization to elicit emotion? Isn’t thinking this much about the emotional response of the viewer dangerous to an unbiased representation of the data?

  3. “I feel that in these days where charts may be tweeted, reblogged, and aggregated out of context, you must assume your graphic will stand alone.”
    • Harris is putting an awful lot of responsibility on the data visualization to communicate both the actual data and the emotional narrative with which it is associated. I agree that it is more common nowadays to see a visualization by itself than attached to an explanatory written piece, but does that really necessitate a change in what it means to represent data? It seems like Harris is looking at this issue through the eyes of a professional data visualizer, and as someone who sees far more visualizations on a given day than the average person. I would contend that imbuing every visualization with an emotional narrative defeats the root purpose of dataviz.

1. The author, through the examples he presents in the article, questions the role of information graphics. Under what circumstances is it more of a priority for data visualization to bring empathy over efficiency/accuracy of data presented?

2. In his example, Homicide Watch, a website with different victims’ faces along with information about them, potential suspects, and homicide news in D.C. is linked. However, the website is more than just an infographic. Is he implying that it is possibly more effective for information that deals with deaths of individuals to be conveyed in a format that diverges from what is a typical infographic?

3. What is the difference between a graphic such as the NYT sectarian purging in Baghdad and a graphic that replaces deaths with dots? Why does he seem to consider the former more successful? Is his reasoning only because of the supporting texts?


Why are we trying to create empathetic design through the use of data viz? when this is already done through every other means of data representation, A good example would be animation, film, books, drawings, paintings.

Is there a reason that data visualizers need to be empathetic if their goal is to provide information that is "scientific "?

  1. Is it the responsibility of the infographic to present an opinion? or does opinion taint practical and rational information?

  2. In comparison to poster design how can data visualisation create an emotive impact?

  3. Is it the dots which make us less empathetic or is it the overload of information people have access to constantly? Lacking in empathy comes from desensitisation, by overload of dots, articles, images. Is trying to be responsible for empathy a loosing battle?

Reading Response #6

  1. The “20,000 foot view”:The aerial view of people is a difficult thing to represent especially when looking at it from a large scale geographic context. Could other types of drawings communicate the ideas better or should we just learn to make these drawings more convincing or evocative?

  2. When thinking about representing people; is scale or the emotional experience more important? Should people always been in scale related to biologic or data derived measurement or would it be more effective in some scenarios to represent a more gestural or abstract idea of the information?

  3. The iconographic approach to people is inherently reductive and often demeaning in sensitive cases. Other than literally putting the face to the figure how can people or the symbol of people be connected back to their physical embodied person? How does it relate to their legacy or their personality that relatives and friends will always remember about them?

Reading Response #6

Question #1
“Wrong as it is, the map doesn’t fail to startle; the replies and retweets are filled with tweets shocked at the overall picture of violence. The problem is that once you get past the original shock of the image, there is nothing else to learn.”
What is the value of shock and where does the shock value end with other data visualizations?

Question #2
The purpose of data visualizations seems to be to communicate sets of information in an easily understood, visual way. Yet, the author’s example of the Homicide Watch as the best example of the method described in What If the Data Visualization is Actually People? is confusing because he compares individual photos and narratives to deaths shown on a map, two methods with different motives. In using a map, the data visualization seems to stress the location and minor details of the homicides. Opposite the map method, the Homicide Watch site emphasizes personal narratives. Comparing the two methods does not make much sense, as the objectives of each seem to be completely different. For the author’s example of DC’s Homicide Watch website as an example of a technique described in What If the Data Visualization is Actually People?, is the method of communication still considered data visualization despite the lack of data communicated? Why did the author compare the map visualization to the website’s narrative style if their only commonalities are topic (homicides) and location (DC)?

Question #3
“Still, we have guides to inform us when to use a bar chart vs. a scatter plot vs. a pie chart,” what are these guides?

Question #4
Is there a better way to invoke empathy and tell personal stories within a larger narrative using data visualization (other than photos and narratives, a technique mentioned here but one that also doesn’t seem to display any “data” at all)?