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The Truthful Art - Ch 5 & Ch6: Starting Big or Starting Small?

Updated: Feb 6, 2019

Is statistics difficult? For me, the answer is definitely a big 'Yes'. Although having a background of computer science probably means that I should be very comfortable with numbers, I still feel somewhat overwhelmed by being exposed to too much information all at once. What am I going to do with these data to find out patterns? Well, after reading these two chapters of the Truthful Art and learning the basics of graphics and statistics, I guess the answer would be - try it out as much as you can.


The use of different graphic forms and components provides different ways of understanding. And here comes the question that was haunting me during this week's reading: Should we start from overall information or we just directly show the specific data at first? My previous experience told me that starting from overall information could provide readers the context of a whole story, for example, what are talking about? What is the background? What is the situation now?


Luckily Professor Cairo explained about this in his book: what is your goal? Starting small enables accurate judgments while starting big helps general patterns. Let's take a look at this example.


Here is a data visualization work that describes the daily routines of famous creative people. With different blocks of color, it might not be that easy for people to find out the pattern from an overall view. Although I don't even believe that revealing the pattern is on the top of the list of the author's goals.

Now, since it's interactive, people can choose to focus on a specific daily activity. Say, sleep. After selecting sleep, everything else if gone. It's easier now for readers to take an overall look at these famouse people's sleeping routines. How much of them overlap? Is there an outlier? How are those outliers different from others', or even, from the readers' ?

If I have the chance to make a static version of this, I will start small - "When do famous creative people sleep? Daily routines of the famousr creative people." Attracting people by showing them sleep routines of famous creative people at first which requires less mental effort to generate a pattern. Then add other routines one by one. I think this might be a better way for readers to have a comprehensive understanding and to generate explorations.

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