CHAPTER 2

WHEN A CHART HITS OUR EYES

SOME SCIENCE OF HOW WE SEE

I’VE COMPARED THE PROCESS of learning dataviz to learning how to write and to learning a new language. Maybe the best analog, though, is music. Everyone hears music and forms opinions about it without taking courses in music theory. We may sense something about the music we like—its “texture,” or that it sounds “brooding,” without knowing that we’re actually describing syncopation or a minor key.

Similarly, everyone sees charts and decides whether they’re good or bad without a degree in visual perception theory. You may sense something about a chart you like—you may even be able to describe it as “clear” or “revealing” without understanding that you’re actually describing elementary ...

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