Module 4: Responsible Data Storytelling

Gestalt’s Principles

In the 1900s, the Gestalt School of Psychology defined some basic principals of visual perception that are still widely accepted today and can be applied as a framework in developing data visualizations.

Proximity

Proximity refers to the closeness of visual elements. The separate design entities come together to create a “unified whole” due to their distance/space from one another. The closer the entities appear, the stronger the relationship. See Figure 4.1[1] below for an example of how proximity in a scatterplot defines a relationship.

The 2 variables in the scatterplot above have a positive relationship.
Figure 4.1- The relationship between fruit production volume and fruit farm gate value based on various fruits in 2020.

Similarity

Similarity refers to unity and wholeness (e.g. shapes, text, colours). Elements that look alike are seen as belonging to the same group or creating a pattern to form a singular unit. See Figure 4.2[2] for an example of how repeating colours represent similarity.

The bar graph above shows the production of apples, blueberries, cranberries, grapes, and strawberries over 2016-2020 in Canada, with apples being produced more than any other fruit throughout all years.
Figure 4.2- Yearly fruit production in Canada based on 5 fruits over the timespan of 2016-2020.

Continuity

Continuity refers to our eyes continuing the design of a path, line, or curve , though it may extend beyond the page. The mind will automatically fill in the gap to “go with the flow”. See Figure 4.3[3] for an example of continuity.

The line graph above illustrates an increasing trend of area harvested for mushrooms in Ontario over 2016-2019.
Figure 4.3- Ontario area (in square feet) used to harvest mushrooms over the years.

Closure

Closure refers to our mind completing missing portions of a design. There must be enough parts available for the image to be “filled in”; if the image is too abstract, there are minimal reference points for the mind to complete it. See Figure 4.4[4] for an example of how our mind automatically imagine a line connecting the 2 broken ones.

The line graph for the cost of round steak has missing data from March and April, resulting in a gap for those months, but shows an overall increasing trend (see caption for details).
Figure 4.4- Line graph of the cost of round steak from January-July of 2021, with missing data from the months of March and April, misleading the reader to think that the cost was increasing in March and April as well.

Figure-Ground

Figure-Ground refers to the design’s focal point (figure) and background (ground) details. Using figure-ground will allow the audience to automatically find the areas to focus upon. Figure 4.4[5] displays good contrast, whereas Figure 4.5 displays poor contrast with the same data.

The bar graph above illustrates good contrast by presenting two bars; 1 for mushroom beds in Ontario and 1 for British Columbia. Both bars are a contrasting colour from the white background.
Figure 4.5- Bar graph with good contrast presents how the area (in square feet) of mushroom beds in Ontario and British Columbia has changed over the years.
The bar graph above illustrates poor contrast by presenting two bars; 1 for mushroom beds in Ontario and 1 for British Columbia. Both bars are similar colours to each other and the black background.
Figure 4.6- Bar graph with poor contrast presents how the area (in square feet) of mushroom beds in Ontario and British Columbia has changed over the years.

  1. Statistics Canada. Table 32-10-0364-01 Area, production and farm gate value of marketed fruits. Data is reproduced and distributed on an "as is" basis with the permission of Statistics Canada. Retrieved January 9th, 2022. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25318/3210036401-eng. Statistics Canada Open Licence: https://www.statcan.gc.ca/en/reference/licence
  2. Statistics Canada. Table 32-10-0364-01 Area, production and farm gate value of marketed fruits. Data is reproduced and distributed on an "as is" basis with the permission of Statistics Canada. Retrieved January 9th, 2022. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25318/3210036401-eng. Statistics Canada Open Licence: https://www.statcan.gc.ca/en/reference/licence
  3. Statistics Canada. Table 32-10-0356-01 Area, production and sales of mushrooms. Data is reproduced and distributed on an "as is" basis with the permission of Statistics Canada. Retrieved January 8th, 2022. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25318/3210035601-eng. Statistics Canada Open Licence: https://www.statcan.gc.ca/en/reference/licence
  4. Statistics Canada. Table 18-10-0002-01 Monthly average retail prices for food and other selected products. Data is reproduced and distributed on an "as is" basis with the permission of Statistics Canada. Retrieved February 2nd, 2022. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25318/1810000201-eng. Statistics Canada Open Licence: https://www.statcan.gc.ca/en/reference/licence
  5. Statistics Canada. Table 32-10-0356-01 Area, production and sales of mushrooms. Data is reproduced and distributed on an "as is" basis with the permission of Statistics Canada. Retrieved January 8th, 2022. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25318/3210035601-eng. Statistics Canada Open Licence: https://www.statcan.gc.ca/en/reference/licence

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Critical Data Literacy by Nora Mulvaney and Audrey Wubbenhorst and Amtoj Kaur is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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