The Science of Memorable Data Visualizations

As a data visualization enthusiast, I felt like a kid on Christmas when I stumbled upon What Makes a Visualization Memorable? a 2013 report that details the findings of the largest visualization study to date. For the historic study, MIT and Harvard researchers utilized more than 2,000 single-panel visualizations as well as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to collect memorability scores from study participants.

Here are a few conclusions from the study:

1. Visualizations with a high visual density are more memorable than visualizations that are minimalistic. 

The lesson: Embellish your charts. Add layers, icons, and increase the overall complexity of your design. Yes, you might get some flak from the visualization community for including “chart junk,” but don’t sweat the criticism; your visual will be remembered long after everyone has forgotten the critical words.

2. Abstract visuals are less memorable that visuals including graphics or images of easily recognizable items.

The lesson: Achieve high visual density by including pictorial visuals. Instead of designing your visualization with unidentifiable shapes, use graphics, images, or icons that feature identifiable items.

3. Unique visualization styles are more memorable than common visualization formats.

The lesson: Ditch the common bar charts, graphs, and bullet points. Get creative. Use unexpected design techniques to visualize your data.

4. Visuals that include 7 or more colors are more memorable than visuals with 6 or fewer colors.

The lesson: Be bold with your color scheme. Use lots of colors every time you visualize data.

Enjoy our short video on this topic: 

To learn more, check out the Harvard School of Engineering And Applied Sciences article What makes a data visualization memorable?

Need help creating memorable visualizations? Contact us. We are data visualization experts.

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