Over at Storytelling with Data, Cole provides a well written example of how to use preattentive attributes to make a better graphic. What the hell are “preattentive attributes”?
"Preattentive attributes" in the world of information visualization is a fancy descriptor for aspects of a visual that hit our iconic memory. Iconic memory is what happens in our brain before short term memory kicks in, before we even really know that we’re thinking. Iconic memory is tuned to pick up preattentive attributes: things like color, size, added marks, and spacial position (related Stephen Few article)
This reminded me of some efforts on the education front to teach Graphicacy (Graphic literacy). While “graphicacy” is one of the dumber new words I’ve heard in a while, the concept is sound – the skill set of interpreting graphs. I have definitely witnessed people learning how to interpret new graph types, and it’s a fascinating process. The American Society for Innovation Design in Education (ASIDE) have done some interesting work on the subject if you want to look into it further:
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