Who is your audience? How expert will they be about the subject and/or display conventions?

Almost any guide to creating visualizations puts thinking about your audience first, and we do too. If your audience lacks the contextual background to understand what you’re showing them, your work is for naught. Choices about audience interact with choices about Display Modes, so be sure to consider how much time and opportunity for interaction a person will have with your visualization at the same time you consider audience. Planning on your audience having a bit less expertise and patience than you’d ideally expect is generally a good bet.

Example: EXOPLANETS for Whom?

Here are two versions of a graph showing (almost) the same information (about planets beyond our solar system) to two different audiences.   The public release version (on the left): has an explicit title; the axes are labeled in plain English; the important information is further emphasized (blue dots) ; and familiar symbols (planet icons) are used to provide more context.  On the right, the journal-article version of the same graphic shows more information (encoded in the colors of points and error bars) and labeled with more technical nomenclature. Both figures were created by Prof. Courtney Dressing, who comments in her explanation of the two figures that she now prefers using the “public” version in talks–even to fellow scientists.

Source: Dressing, C.D., Charbonneau, D., 2013. THE OCCURRENCE RATE OF SMALL PLANETS AROUND SMALL STARS. ApJ 767, 95. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/767/1/95

 ➡ BONUS feature for this entry!  Notes from author, Courtney Dressing, on why she made the changes shown above, from the scholarly to the press versions of this figure. [Read them now.]


 Last revised: 12th of July 2018, Alyssa Goodman