The addition of movement to data visualization can significantly increase impact and add extra depth to the information displayed.

We live in amazing times! The methods by which rich data can be presented have increased exponentially as our display and consumption technologies continue to advance. Animation and movement allow us to stretch the bounds of conventional data visualization; we are no longer constrained by the amount of data we can show.

In this article we will look at some of the reasons why adding movement to data visualization is so beneficial. We will also run through several primary uses for movement as well as looking briefly at the potential downsides of too much movement in information design. 

Why movement?

What makes the introduction of animation resonate with users in ways that static data presentations often don’t? In his 2014 presentation on the subject, data viz guru Jeremy Stucki listed a number of compelling reasons for adding movement to information design. 

Movement draws the viewer’s attention

No amount of beautifully designed data or elegant infographics can attract the modern-day information consumer’s attention like movement. The average person interacts with thousands of pieces of unique content every day. Endless streams of words and images flit past without capturing a moment’s attention. Animated content has the ability to cut through the noise and attract attention and foster meaningful engagement.

Animation groups objects together

Movement can visually bring disparate elements together which in turn allows the entire visualization to be represented in a more cohesive manner. By providing a unified language of movement we can infer relationships between data points which would not be possible within a static representation. Data visualizations often deal with wildly different sets of data plotted to a variety of chart, graph or infographic styles, having a commonality of movement allows us to bind these elements in familial style.

Animation suggests causation and intentionality

Moving objects which represent data points allows for the suggestion of causation which cannot easily be represented through static elements. For example, through movement, we can easily show when the value of a data point is directly affected by an influencing factor. This would be harder to achieve within a static visualization.

Animation is emotionally engaging

We are endlessly fickle and struggle to maintain engagement. Movement grabs our attention and forces us to engage. Good data visualization design helps viewers understand and digest the information represented. Animating that data brings it to life and adds an emotional connection. 

Uses for movement within data visualizations

There are many potential uses for animation in information design. Jon Schwabish, another great data viz specialist we follow, lists several distinct uses for animation within data visualization.

As a narration tool

Using animation, information designers can walk viewers through an entire narrative within a piece of work. Controlling the narrative and being able to tell the story behind the data in a linear manner makes it much easier to explain complex concepts and also massively increases engagement. 

As transition

Animation is often used within data visualization as a transition tool to move between various views or representations. Movement is also used extensively as a method of showing changes over time or to illustrate changes in data structure.

As encoding

Using animation within a visualization to represent the value of the data itself, not as a narration tool or as a means of transitioning between different aspects of visualization but rather as a means of representing a value.

As a means of showing live data

With the advent of rich data APIs, showcasing live data within visualizations has become relatively easy to achieve. Animating changes in the values of live data brings visualizations to life in new and exciting ways.

The Downside

Like any device, overuse of movement within data visualization can be a distraction. If the animation is gratuitous and doesn’t serve one of the primary uses outlined above, it will create unnecessary complication. As with all tools currently available to illustrate and enhance data, movement should be used with purpose and not merely in a decorative manner.

In closing

Animation in data visualization definitely helps to capture attention. It also helps convey added depth which gives the designer options beyond those available in a static design. Movement also leads to increased retention. This ultimately has to be the end goal for anyone attempting to convey data in new and innovative ways.

Find out how Agent Jones can help you create rich, animated data vizualizations and infographics that reach more users. Click here to get in touch.

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