While good data collection and intelligent analysis are important first steps in providing insights that are used, all is lost if the essence of the learning isn’t conveyed by the presentation. As such, strong data visualization is of critical importance to those who have information to share. The use of infographics, scorecards, dashboards, and all possible types of charts should aid in communicating to the viewer clearly and effectively. By understanding the way visualized data will be used, one can create the visuals that will be both highly engaging and have the highest impact on the audience for a presentation.
We all know that in many industries decision-making has become increasingly data-driven over the last few decades. In this time, we’ve also seen a massive increase in the amount of data available to help inform these decisions. Visuals for decision-making are most powerful when they provide the all of the most relevant data in a format that is as simple as possible. KPI scorecards are often a good option for this goal. They typically provide a structure that allows for a high density of critical information, while keeping the visualizations themselves streamlined, predictable, and intuitive.
Data discovery is the use of visualizations to aid in data analysis. It has become increasingly clear over the last decade that visuals are not simply for the purpose of displaying information to others, but for better understanding the data that you have gathered. Discovery-focused visuals should be dynamic, interlocking, and allow the analyst who will be using the visual to quickly move from insight to insight to get to answers and solutions. When designing for discovery, focus on maximizing ease of transition between complementary visualizations, and provide a streamlined user-experience for interactive options as much as possible.
Visuals for storytelling are critical for conveying insights that are based on complex analytics to those who are less quantitatively inclined, have less exposure to data, or simply are more interested in the big picture than the minutia of a particular data set or project. Used correctly, graphs and charts can bring your data to life, and add critical drama to the story you are trying to tell. Visuals for drama are also often the most difficult to make well. As Tufte and others stress in their work, when designing for storytelling, graphs should maximize the data displayed and minimize non-data (Tufte calls this the data-ink ratio). While it can often be tempting to add aesthetic bells and whistles to our visuals, these almost always have the effect of diminishing the story being told by the data. Remember: visually, less is more.
While there are many other topics to consider when designing data visuals, taking into consideration these “three Ds” can provide the initial guidance necessary for presenting data in a way that is effective, aesthetically-pleasing, and clear.