How to make complex graphs more understandable

We provide guidance for researchers on how the accessibility of data visuals can be enhanced while also maintaining scientific rigour. Data visuals support communication of climate change. Yet they can be difficult for diverse stakeholders in society to understand. Our new report provides twelve guidelines for putting our recommendations into practice that draw on cognitive and psychological science evidence on how people comprehend visual information, how we understand text in relation to visuals, and how good design makes information easier to understand.

In summary, remember our four pillars of the MADE principle – Message, Audience, Design, Evaluate – the report demonstrates how effective data visuals can be constructed.

Message: Does the visual communicate a clear message?
Audience: Is the visual appropriate for the intended audience(s)?
Design: Does the visual use evidence-based design principles?
Evaluate: Has the visual been tested with the audience(s)?

Communications, including data visuals, are integral to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Chance (IPCC) and there is a clear desire within the IPCC to ensure information is communicated effectively, as noted by Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC, “…the 8 reports that will be released over the next 5 years will be clear, accessible and user-friendly, … so that non-specialists can understand climate change and its implications.” It is hoped that the data visual recommendations and guidance will support the IPCC and IPCC report authors towards this goal, as well as providing a useful resource for climate change researchers in general.

Guidance for researchers – online quick reference guide to the MADE principle and the 12 accompanying guidelines.

Summary of our Report

Our Full Report

Report authors: Jordan Harold, Irene Lorenzoni, Kenny R. Coventry, Asher Minns. We are grateful to the Norwegian Environment Agency (Miljødirektoratet) and the High-End Climate Impacts and Extremes (HELIX Climate) project for funding to support this initiative. This work developed in a collaboration between the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the Schools of Psychology and Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia.