2011-04-26

Future Design Careers: Information Visualization Designer

The future design jobs will be a series of articles that look at jobs that designers could be doing in the future. The intent is to give graphic designers a heads up on potential directions in their own careers. This first article is on data visualization designers.

Information visualization is where design and statistics meet. The information visualization designer’s job is to make data digestible. The intended audience should be able to interpret a good information visualization to understand key things about the under lying data. A data visualization designer works with a source of data and tries to find the important and interesting facts that lie within data. Data visualization is about visually interpreting data in order to produce good stories.

Information visualization designers will need solid layout illustration skills. It will help to have a background in statistics – though initially designers will work alongside statisticians eventually the role of information visualization designer will specialize to include a need for statistics too. The designer will also need good empathy with their target audiences to know what information they will want to know.

A person considering a career in information visualization should train as a designer and illustrator first and minor in statistics. Learning interactive design and programming (like Processing and Flash) will help the information visualization designer produce live data visualizations that can be run on demand. Animation and storytelling related subjects will help the information visualization designer learn how to produce information visualization animations. Journalism could be another useful supporting subject to learn about the standards and ethics associated with interpreting data for consumption by others.

There is a related field called “interactive data visualization” that provides interfaces for users to view the data in any way they choose. This is not information visualization because there is no interpretation of the data into information and stories. Interactive data visualization is most useful for those who are able to interpret the data for themselves. General and non-expert audiences will benefit most from having information interpreted for them.

Data visualization will become more important as our culture becomes increasingly visual. Viewers will be drawn to the simple explanations that visualization offers. In particular visualization can make scale comparisons and quantities easier to understand than words can. The discourse of the future will be increasingly visual as better access to data means we look for better ways to express that data in ways useful to viewers.

Data visualization will be used within organizations to help make better sense of the data they are already capturing. Data visualization will be used by organization seeking to make a point based on quantitative research: political groups, charities, lobbyists, advertisers. As information brokers the information visualization designer will play a central role future communications. The information visualization designer better have a keen sense of ethics.