Understanding impact using comparison with everyday objects

December 17, 2019

Bigger than a double-decker bus, four Wembley stadiums and two olympic-sized swimming pools. There is nothing like a size comparison to help you understand scale, or visualise a complex concept in an easier way. Artist Kevin Wisbith in his 2017 series “A Quick Perspective” illustrated the relative sizes of historical objects to modern day ones.

To understand relative scale we often need a helping hand too, James Talmage and Damon Maneice created the amazing “True Size map” which shows how problematic it can be for cartographers to display our spherical world on flat surface, their map allows users to compare a country’s true size to others - (Greenland shocks me every time!).


One commonly used example in the UK is the “fifty-pence piece” comparison. Whether it be a mother describing her encounter with a super sized hornet or guidelines on when a burn is probably serious. These references to everyday objects or well known landmarks are vital to quickly understanding more complex aspects of our daily lives. Could our ability (or inability) to visualise, process and understand various scales and their relationships with others be affecting our understanding of much bigger issues? If we understood more or were able to make more informed judgements, quicker, what potential impact could that have on things like our society and our environment as a whole?

If you haven’t seen this clip of from BBC’s Question Time, it shows an audience member discussing his salary and the taxation plans for a future government, in the clip it is clear that he really is not understanding his wealth in comparison to the population at large, he underestimates his relative wealth and as a result isn’t able to comprehend his position of extreme privilege.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">“I’d like to call out Labour as liars. I am one of the people he will tax more”<br><br>This audience member, who earns over £80,000, criticises the taxation promises in the Labour Party manifesto. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/bbcqt?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#bbcqt</a><a href="https://t.co/jKJtz2QlqL">pic.twitter.com/jKJtz2QlqL</a></p>&mdash; BBC Question Time (@bbcquestiontime) <a href="https://twitter.com/bbcquestiontime/status/1197651546940608514?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 21, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

In the post below, Suzie Lu talks about her belief that data visualisations should be part of our everyday lives. She embarked on an experiment that looked at analysing and visualising the grocery categories from people’s shops to better inform them of where they are spending their money.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Early prototypes of reviziting the receipt, one piece of a larger question I want explore: how can viz be integrated into everyday experiences? <a href="https://t.co/hswtVFp0oc">pic.twitter.com/hswtVFp0oc</a></p>&mdash; Susie Lu (@DataToViz) <a href="https://twitter.com/DataToViz/status/1124752405973782528?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 4, 2019</a></blockquote>

Imagine every time you went shopping, the carbon cost of your purchases were displayed. Or if every time the man from Question Time received his pay-check he could see a data visualisation of how his payslip compares to others in his area, or a visualisation of how his tax is being spent and how much he has personally contributed to the NHS, the police etc. Would it help him see life from a different angle or would it compound the problem?

In this lovely simple visualisation, Mona Chalabi explains how marginal taxes work, immediately it demonstrates with simple colours how much tax you pay and how much you are left with. 

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">This is how marginal taxes work. Under Labour&#39;s plan, rather than paying £27.5k in tax on an income of £100k, people would pay £30k. Calm down. It&#39;s really not a dramatic change. <br>Sources: HMRC, the Labour Party <a href="https://t.co/QkxqaOAP0N">pic.twitter.com/QkxqaOAP0N</a></p>&mdash; Mona Chalabi (@MonaChalabi) <a href="https://twitter.com/MonaChalabi/status/1198288138747236354?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 23, 2019</a></blockquote>

What else could be done? 

Considering large organisations are responsible for the choices offered to customers, should they be  responsible for conveying the impact those choices have on society and the environment as a whole? From energy use, to financial inclusivity or your carbon footprint, we would like to see more being done to explain tricky concepts in easily digestible ways. From micro-visualisations to size-comparisons - we must ensure choices are informed and their impact transparently communicated.

If the results of our daily actions were more present, we might consider their impact more thoroughly.

This little insight was brought to you by Steve Johnson, Managing Partner at Furthermore.

Furthermore are a multi-platform digital product and service design studio based in London. We have one mission: to create innovative digital products that stand out in the landscape, are beautiful, purposeful and a delight for the user. Hot on user experience and user research, we believe good ideas can come at any point in a project, so we utilise agile methodologies. Hypotheses are always tested using prototypes and real users, with improvements being constantly fed back into our user experience and visual designs.

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