4 Tips for Visualizations that Promote Social Change

1. Don’t let the visualization distract from the message
In creating visualizations for advocacy and social change, it’s critical to keep in mind your objective and to avoid visualizations which just offer eye-candy. You want the reader to be attracted to your message, not your methodology or the cool visual tools you used. So, ask yourself if you want your data to provide (a) description, (b) exploration, (c) tabulation, or (d) decoration (see Tufte’s “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.”)

2. Prep your data
Every great visualization begins with a coherent and well-organized data set. As a result, it’s important to clean your data and only leave the most essential variables organized in the best possible format to reveal the main relationships that you want to highlight between your variables.

Two free tools which can help you clean and prep your data for visualization are:

 3. Ensure content focus
The best visualizations are transparent about the data used and display and make available the data used.

4. Reveal the data at several levels of detail
From a broad overview to the fine structure.

5. Avoid distorting the data
A good visualization should always showcase the data honestly. As a result, things such as pie graphs and charts are frowned upon because they of their distortion of the data and lack of clarity. This is what’s often deemed as avoiding “chart junk” (Tufte).
6. Be memorable
Studies have found that memorability alone can enhance the effectiveness of visualizations.  A recent study, which is the most comprehensive study of visualizations to date, found that visualizations that were most memorable had:

a. Human recognizable objects”, these were images with photographs, body parts, and icons–things that people regularly encounter in their daily lives.

b. Effective use of color, specifically, visualizations with more than six colors were much more memorable than those with only a few colors or a black-and-white gradient.

c. Visual density, meaning that visuals that had a lot going on were more memorable than minimalist approaches.


Tip: For inspiration on data visualizations that promote advocacy and social change visit:


Using infographics to foster social justice
A collection of infographics produced either independently by academics or in collaboration with other community groups:
a. Justice Mapping Project: a non-profit collaboration with Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, & Preservation.  They develop new visualizations of quantitative data regarding a variety of criminal justice, social welfare, and economic development policies representation challenges.

b. Racial Dot Map:  produced by University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service to show the geographic distribution, population density, and racial diversity of every US neighborhood.

c. Radical Cartography: a series of maps by Bill Rankin, Yale University, that highlight an array of issues including housing, income distribution, population density.


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