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Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

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chapter 3 clutter is your enemy!

Picture a blank page or a blank screen: every single element you add to that page or screen takes up cognitive load on the part of your audience—in other words, takes them brain power to process. Therefore, we want to take a discerning look at the visual elements that we allow into our communications. In general, identify anything that isn’t adding informative value—or isn’t adding enough informative value to make up for its presence—and remove those things. Identifying and eliminating such clutter is the focus of this chapter.

Cognitive load

You have felt the burden of cognitive load before. Perhaps you were sitting in a conference room as the person leading the meeting was flipping through their projected slides and they paused on one that looked overwhelmingly busy and complicated. Yikes, did you say “ugh” out loud, or was that just in your head? Or maybe you were reading through a report or the newspaper, and a graph caught your eye just long enough for you to think, “this looks interesting but I have no idea what I’m meant to get out of it”—and rather than spend more time to decipher it, you turned the page.

In both of these instances, what you’ve experienced is excessive or extraneous cognitive load.

We experience cognitive load anytime we take in information. Cognitive load can be thought of as the mental effort that’s required to learn new information. When we ask a computer to do work, we are relying on the computer’s processing power. ...

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