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January 27, 2022
Data Visualization

How perception, memory, and psychology influence data visualization

It’s time to make data visualization knowledge and skills a priority in your organization

In 2022, it’s now crucial for businesses to “level up” in knowledge of how we as individuals absorb, process, and store visual information on a psychological and physiological level. Why? Because the global data visualization tools market is predicted to nearly double over the next four years according to a Research and Markets report. Additionally, Allison Hu, Former Director, Design Research at RevUnit says, 

“Psychology helps us better understand how humans find patterns and make meaning in visual space. Understanding our natural tendencies can help designers ensure meaning is easily accessed and understood from a noisy landscape.” 

Without a doubt, visualization is the best and most practical way to tell the story of data.

But first, in order to lay the groundwork for good data visualization, we must understand:

  • How visuals are processed quickly and subconsciously
  • How visuals impact memory through our photoreceptors
  • How form, color, position, and motion draw the eye
  • How shape and color can be used with intention and mindfulness


How much do you know about the physiological aspects of data viz?

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Unfortunately, the unintentional misuse or miscommunication of data is one of the most common, yet consequential results of poor data visualization techniques. When you invest the time to learn and master the underlying principles that most directly influence your perception and understanding of statistical data, even the slightest uptick in applied, foundational understanding can be a force multiplier toward better data storytelling.

Knowing the foundational principles of physiology and data visualization allows you to more easily translate your knowledge into practical guidelines for displaying complex information in ways that are more easily inferred.

How does the brain make sense of visual information?

Your brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text. That is why it is essential to have a fundamental understanding of the physiology of the human eye, what its role is in shaping perception, and how certain types of memory work together to make sense of visual information. 

After visual input hits the retina, the information flows into the brain, where information such as shape, color, and orientation is processed in as little as 13 milliseconds according to MIT neuroscientists. This rapid processing of visual information is the result of subconscious accumulation of information from the environment; this is known as preattentive processing (PaP). It’s a product of the rods and cones, the two forms of photoreceptors within the retina, being drawn to the various ways that shape and color are constructed in the world around us.

How we visually receive and retain information that contains various forms, color, positions, and motion impacts our ability to make educated decisions that best serve our company and customers. In our Complete Guide to Better Data Visualization, we take a comprehensive look at the different ways in which information is processed and how to best use this information to create more effective and clearly communicated data.

Bottom line: Our Data Visualization Guide is designed to help you win the real-time data storytelling game.

You win when…you’re able to understand even the foundational principles of data visualization and you’re more easily able to translate your knowledge into practical guidelines for displaying complex information in ways that are more easily understood.

You win when…you know how the brain processes this information which then provides the opportunity for data practitioners to develop more effective, clearly communicated data visualization.

Check out our Complete Guide to Better Data Visualization and download our “3 Tips for Better Data Storytelling with Your BI Tools” cheat sheet.

RevUnit provides data visualization services including consulting and implementation that enables business decision makers to drive results. Contact us to meet with a data visualization expert.

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Your insights alone won’t drive action — the way you present your data will determine if your users act on it.

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We can help you use the right visualizations (not just the pretty ones) to drive real impact. Learn more about our Data Visualization Services.

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RevUnit is a technology studio that helps supply chain clients identify and implement data solutions that actually prove ROI. We help organizations across industries like transportation, freight, logistics, retail, and manufacturing achieve business results through innovative data solutions — powered by AI/ML and the cloud. We’ve done it for clients like ArcBest, J.B. Hunt, and Walmart.

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