More visuals in rstats, please

Anyone who’s been reading along for awhile will realise by now I’m an infographic maven (here, here, here and here to start with). If a post has an infographic attached to it, chances are the infographic was designed long before the post was. A few people have asked about them lately, so here’s my quick rundown.

Why the infographics?

Visuals cater to a very large proportion of people for whom large amounts of text are not ideal for consuming technical information – and by ‘large amounts’ I mean ‘more than a few paragraphs’.

This kind of content is also easier for users who are speaking English as as second language to access – the text is broken down into pieces, the visuals offer further information and there’s justĀ less of it to have to parse. (Although I haven’t seen this done, I anticipate it’s also easier to translate an infographic of some kind than, say, a full-length vignette.)

While visuals are a hugely successful medium for this kind of technical content, that doesn’t mean we should toss out the vignettes and blog posts or that we should stop using them to convey information: this is very demonstrably a terrible idea! Vignettes and blog posts provide a vital understanding for detailed, difficult concepts. The more we have, the better.

But ideally, we’d also pay attention to providing visual information as well.

How to infographic?

For someone whose main role in life is as developer or a data scientist, the prospect of “and now there’s one more thing you HAVE to do” is really not very helpful. Not every package or concept needs an infographic by any means. However, if you’re someone who’d like to communicate more with a wider audience, then maybe visuals of some kind are worth a shot.

That said, I have zero design skills. ZERO. My idea of an understandable colour wheel is gentle shades of monochrome. There are tools that allow you to build useful infographics without serious design skills.

My favourite is Canva, which I’ve been using for years. It has both paid and free versions. I used the free version for years quite happily, but recently upgraded to the premium content. Some content then has additional fees on top of that – but I avoid it quite easily. If you see an infographic from me, it was probably built in Canva. The platform goes beyond infographics. For example, the useR!2018 sponsorship prospectus was built in Canva (please interpret this as a plea for sponsorship and go take a look).

I’ve also used simple Excel or Powerpoint drawings + the magic of the screenshot. It’s hokey and doesn’t look that great, but if it’s getting the point across then I just roll with it. This is my alternative for flow charts, which Canva is not good at in my opinion. If anybody has a better idea, I’d love to hear it.

This blogpost has a number of other tools that I’m in the process of checking out.



tl;dr: visuals are good ways to teach a wider cross section of people things. You don’t need to have good design skills to try them out.



Post script: In fact, often the post accompanying the infographic on this blog is usually just a slightly more detailed rehash of the infographic. Why? Because the post is acting as an accessibility device for the infographic- the post wasn’t the point at all. An infographic can be just a whole bunch of nothing for a non-sighted reader and alt-text only gets you so far. So the post repeats the information in a format and style that is compatible with a screen reader. (I use the alt text to tell the reader this is where the information is.)