Seeing patterns in research findings

We’re always on the lookout for engaging ways to communicate the patterns we uncover in our research. What factors cluster into significant groups? What are relevant attributes and relationships? What trends do we see?

Shan Carter and Amanda Cox at the New York Times recently produced a fantastic interactive chart highlighting the voting patterns along several demographic factors in the Democratic primaries. (You can read more about this graphic from Shan Carter here.)

I love the idea of starting with this approach and overlaying additional factors to draw out relationships and relative importance. In the Times example, imagine the squares drawn in relative proportion to the number of delegates in play; color and saturation representing the percentage of Democratic votes in the 2004 presidential election. Combining multiple factors does complicate the visual, so care must be taken to preserve the clarity that makes it so effective.

At Cooper, we often do something similar, with behavioral variables of interview subjects plotted along major axes, combined with demographics like age, organization type and role, to paint a picture of the interrelated web that helps us make meaning of a diverse human population. We always try to walk through these visualizations with a story that ascribes meaning to the observations, but providing clients (and ourselves) with an opportunity to interact with the data in a well-curated way really emphasizes the relevant factors and helps everyone understand the patterns we use to drive decisions and take action.

Tim McCoy

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