The Ethics of Visualization

Columbia University Libraries held this event recently, and while I missed the event, I was really happy they posted the video of it. Planners can often be creators of visualizations, but the ethics of visualizations is something not often discussed formally or academically, so I found this pretty interesting. Chris Alen Sula who presents in the video above does a great job of creating a framework for how to start thinking about the ethical implications of visualizations, id est, he pretty much set the stage for asking questions about graphics, and it helped me to begin to articulate some questions to consider when creating graphics…

  • How does one create a simple symbol or icon that won’t alienate the intended audience? Simple concepts, especially those that vary depending on cultural differences, can be represented very differently depending on the audience. ‘Home,’ for instance could be represented by an apartment, a Cape Cod house, a row-house, an adobe house, a mobile home, a nest, etc…
  • Does the audience understand how to read maps or graphs? Do they understand them enough to question them or the data they are made from? Not to mention any physical or language barriers (foreign-born populations, color blindness, literacy levels, etc… should be considered) that could affect understanding?
  • What information, data references, and level of clarity are needed in infographics to be considered ‘professional’ quality?
  • How aware am I of my own biases, or unintended biases of the information as presented?

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