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39 studies about human perception in 30 minutes

These are my speaker notes from a talk I gave at OpenVis in April 2016. Originally this talk was supposed to be called “Everything we know about how humans perceive graphics,” which is… at a minimum, pretty pretentious. I scaled back a bit.

Clearly I have learned everything there is to know about how humans perceive data graphics in preparation for this talk. Literally everything. But I couldn’t possibly fit it all into 30 minutes. So for your sake, let’s just refer to this talk as “39 studies on human perception in 30 minutes.”

I’m a graphics editor at The Washington Post, which means I’m part developer, part journalist. Graphics editors like me often rely on common wisdom and experiential knowledge to inform our decisions about design and visualization choices — which is incredibly valuable.

For the last several years, I’ve wondered about what we actually know from scientific studies about how humans perceive graphics. I’ve collected things here and there, but when I started to get into the thick of it, I realized how extensive this body of research really is. There is a lot that I’m leaving out.

This is an extreme distillation of these studies. In reality, these are robust studies, many with multiple experiments each, loaded with meaningful nuance that I do not have time to address. These are very simplistic representations of one or two core findings. I encourage that you read them in their entirety and consider their complete findings.

In future posts, I’d like to dive in deeper to each section and present a bit more context for these findings. Look out for more!

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