20/20 (Data) Vision

This past week offered a valuable module for our group project. As we are planning on doing GIS work to show ethnic distribution and create interactive maps with combination text and images, the visualization of data is something that we need to be aware of. In saying that, I am realizing how many considerations one should be making when thinking about how to display data and, more importantly, how people will interact with it.

I am, of course, having flashbacks to the various presentation-making classes in high school of basic things like “don’t put yellow text on a purple background” and “don’t, under any circumstances, use comic sans.” But when thinking about accessibility, one must think beyond simple aesthetics. For example, colorblindness is a very real issue that some people deal with, but, as someone who isn’t colorblind, it’s not something that I would immediately think of accommodating in my projects. One way I intend to fix this oversight on my part is to use the guidance of Color Brewer and focus only on colorblind-friendly palettes. Aside from colors, the use of shapes and pattern can also affect peoples’ perceptions of data. The goal should always be to aim for simple and clear, rather than attempt something complex and impractical. Data visualizations don’t have to be ugly, per se, but there’s definitely beauty in simplicity.

Beyond accessibility, however, there are other functionalities to consider. One of these is the actual interface of a site. Tara Andrews and Joris van Zundert’s article, “What are You Trying to Say? The Interface as an Integral Element of Argument,” examines the intersections between graphical project interface and the actual content of a project, and how it is important for scholars to consider these intersections. Andrews and van Zundert argue that every interface has an inherent argument within it and that these inherent arguments can be at odds with the content it displays. As such, creators need to be careful about the choices they are making regarding digital interfaces, as they can skew content into an argument they had not previously considered.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my personal website and blog don’t have any major accessibility issues. By using Wave (https://wave.webaim.org), I was able to evaluate the overall accessibility of my site and see the root of any issues. Thankfully, I had zero errors right off the bat and only a few warnings about redundant links. I think this is mostly because I enjoy black and gray color schemes and just simple minimalism overall, and combined with the high-contrast plugin I have installed there’s no real problems with my site. However, when I checked on some of my favorite digital history projects, I was surprised at the sheer number of errors and issues that they brought up. This module has really reoriented my thinking toward project design and the display of data, and how I can clear those hurdles in my own work.

5 comments / Add your comment below

  1. It’s funny that you mention learning how not to use certain color clashes, when most color clashes tend to be helpful for colorblind people due to the contrast. I swear we are taught a fool’s game in primary/secondary education. That’s also why your blog had such few errors! There is immediate contrast to your scheme. It’s not the fact that it’s “grey” but rather the fact that there is a clear distinction between the background and text. The redundant link issue is a problem with those using page readers, but I also decided that to a certain point, there is not too much to be done there as sidebars actually are accessible for other users. It is rare that everything will be perfect in an accessibility sense, but being as mindful as we can be in regards to methodology and presentation is the least we can do!

  2. I also remember those classes in high school and yet I still felt unprepared in some cases when making design choices. But as I’ve really learned this week, those classes were not accessibility oriented, but rather aesthetic oriented. As we work on our final projects, I think we have to keep in mind that our projects can be aesthetically pleasing without compromising the accessibility of them.

  3. The filter feature on Color Brewer has been a real godsend to find palettes, especially ones that retain a nice choice of colors even after filtering for colorblindness. I definitely agree that accommodating for colorblindness isn’t the first thought in my mind when creating a project, but now it’s a core component of my aesthetic process! Hopefully in the future they will expand upon the different palettes available and provide even more stylings that accommodate in the future!

  4. It’s revelatory that something as simple as color and shape can aid or work against data and therefore an argument but that was a huge takeaway for me this week. Argument is always present, yes, at this point we have grasped that history and digital history have many nuanced but it is also incredibly educational to consider how visualizing your argument does or does not make it accessible. However, I hope scholars thinking about accessibility will design projects for all audiences rather than just other scholars- maybe accessibility training will force important change in academia!

  5. I agree these readings made me think about our project. We haven’t gotten to color issues, though certainly it will be a big deal with our maps. I’m also thinking about interface issues and having textual explanations for our maps to clearly explain what we are trhing to show. I did find when I looked at projects on the Tableaux Public site that most of them were not clear in what they were trying to portray.

    I also thought May’s comments were terrific! Lots to think about!

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