“Like we’ve heard in the Spiderman comics, with great power comes great responsibility,” says Amanda Makulec (’10). In a world of nearly endless data—and “‘alternative facts”—she says, “data visualization is a powerful tool, and as a powerful tool it can persuade but it can also mislead.”
Makulec, a visual analytics advisor at John Snow, Inc. (JSI), will be returning to the School of Public Health on June 19 through 21 to co-teach Marrying Design, Statistics, and Analytics: How to Design Health Data Visualizations that Work with Associate Dean for Education and Professor of Biostatistics Lisa Sullivan. The course is one of more than a dozen in the new Summer Institute from the lifelong learning initiative Population Health Exchange (PHX).
“In our fast-paced, consumable-bits-of-information world, there is an ever increasing demand for simple, simple, simple charts and graphs,” Makulec says. “Data visualization helps us see ‘data stories,’ and bring those data stories to life for different people.”
Makulec and Sullivan designed the two-and-a-half-day, intensive summer course to arm public health professionals with powerful tools, and to teach them to use those tools responsibly.
Data visualization allows public health professions to “work at the intersection of the left and right sides of your brain,” Makulec says, applying the best practices of the graphic design world to hard numbers. The course will teach those practices—from color to de-cluttering to impactful use of text—along with key strategies for reaching the right audience, delivering a clear message, and rigorously maintaining accuracy in how data are presented.
Makulec says her time at SPH taught her to think about the audience and purpose of data. As a student, she says she had the opportunity to work directly with real clients. Collecting baseline data during a summer field practicum program in Kenya, she says, “got me thinking more about data use in this rubber hit the road way, put into context and country.”
She joined JSI as a monitoring and evaluation associate more than five years ago, but says she had the opportunity to carve out a niche for herself working on data visualization design thanks in part to her teaching. “I started going ahead and doing these short little training sessions. I started getting more requests, ‘Can you look at this?’ ‘Can you give us some feedback?’ ‘Can you give us a little bit of help?’ I finally had what could be a fully billable scope of work all around data visualization design, and had the support of my team to focus my time on this work.”
In other words, “Instead of telling colleagues why I thought data visualization was important, I demonstrated to them why it was important,” she says. Showing instead of telling, she says, is what data visualization is all about.
Learn more about Marrying Design, Statistics, and Analytics: How to Design Health Data Visualizations that Work, June 19-21. The priority registration deadline is April 15.