Designing Graphs for Decision-Makers

Jeffrey M. Zacks*, Steven L. Franconeri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Data graphics can be a powerful aid to decision-making—if they are designed to mesh well with human vision and understanding. Perceiving data values can be more precise for some graphical types, such as a scatterplot, and less precise for others, such as a heatmap. The eye can extract some types of statistics from large arrays in an eyeblink, as quickly as recognizing an object or face. But perceiving some patterns in visualized numbers—particularly comparisons within a dataset—is slow and effortful, unfolding over a series of operations that are guided by attention and previous experience. Effective data graphics map important messages onto visual patterns that are easily extracted, likely to be attended, and as consistent as possible with the audience’s previous experience. User-centered design methods, which rely on iteration and experimentation to improve a design, are critical tools for creating effective data visualizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-63
Number of pages12
JournalPolicy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • data visualization
  • graphs
  • user-centered design
  • vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Public Administration


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