The Dos And Don’ts Of Data Visualisation
With the explosion of ‘big data’ in recent years companies are collecting and storing mind-boggling amounts of information. This can be used to provide invaluable insights, steer a company’s direction, and provide useful information to specific employees.
However, it’s important to remember not everyone is a data analyst. People are receptive to messages presented in different ways. A lot of people won’t find an endless stream of numbers very engaging. This is where data visualisation comes to the rescue.
With the growing swell of applications like Microsoft BI, QLik and Tableau making it easier than ever to create and share data visualisations, they are only going to become more common as the market place of tools becomes ever more crowded. Arguably visual discovery has reached a peak of digital discovery. A good understanding of the various elements, and how to use them to your advantage, is quickly becoming a necessity.
When used correctly data visualisation will not only have a greater impact, it will stick in peoples minds easier, and it will add credibility to your position. Good data visualisation doesn’t just denote numbers, they tell the story behind the numbers. Conversely, poorly represented, ambiguous or inaccurate visualisations can create more digital chaos than harmony.
Ensure The Data Is Solid
Data can be notoriously easy to misinterpret. Using your analytical tools will help you to highlight any abnormalities and get to the root cause of inconsistencies. If any problems are spotted you can then return to the source of the data and work together to refine the processes. A system that incorporates and encourages analysis will improve the quality of your data significantly.
As the quality of data improves it becomes more valuable. Are you using it to its fullest potential? Have you used the data to add extra value to your customers? Have you explored every avenue of monetisation?
Maintain Purity Of Purpose
Keep in mind what you’re trying to achieve. Data visualisation will not be much help if you simply take sheets of confusing information and turn them into sheets of equally confusing visualisations. Divide the data up into easily defined segments so as not to overload or confuse your audience. The easier the information is to digest the more memorable it will be. Don’t overload your visualisations with masses of historical data reflecting things your audience already knows. Consider the questions your audience need answered by your presentation. If the visualisation is posing the question and providing the answer, let your audience know why it’s important to ask the question in the first place.
Ensure all your visualisations are part of a bigger picture. If you create an infographic to tell a particular story, then ensure the data you use supports the same narrative. While you might have a lot of data to get across, and a lot of points to make, they should all be advancing you towards the ultimate goal.
While it’s good to keep your data visualisations simple and succinct, it’s also crucial they are appealing to the eye. While being secondary to the accepted best practices about constructing data visualisations, aesthetics plays an important role in how your message is perceived. Use your colour choices to grab attention and maintain a common theme throughout. Pick a font that’s easy to read. Don’t overload visualisations with text.
These design elements will all have an impact on the general feel of the visualisations. A good way to look at your visualisation, even if they are for internal purposes, is like you’re creating a brand. Maintain your brand’s image and voice throughout the visualisations.
If you’re not confident in every aspect, then a good designer can help you to get the best out of your visualisation by making it intuitive, effective and efficient.
Less Is More
Lots of clear data visualisations are the preferred option, over having less visualisations that are more cluttered and harder to read. Don’t presume everything will be viewed on a big screen. It may get e-mailed to someone else, who will view it on his or her smartphone or tablet. If you use a program like Tableau online, then everything will be stored in the cloud and could potentially be accessed by any device. There are lots of simple things you can do while creating your visualisations that will help. Edward Tufte’s 35-year-old concept of maximizing the “data-ink ratio” (ink on a page that represents data to that which is not data) is as valid today as when conceived.
Keep the titles, text, and labeling simple. Avoid using industry specific jargon and acronyms as much as possible. Highlight your key points so they stand out. Use simple but palatable graphs. Using a 3D infographic might look great on a huge screen, but can appear distorted or awkward if not viewed in the optimal way. Use form, coloring and positioning to create focus
Remember The Data Has A Supporting Role
Presenting lots of data and information in a very appealing way is not your message. It is a tool for you to use to support your message. Don’t become so focused on picking the best graphics scheme you forget about the bigger picture the data is building towards.
Spend some time discovering what will be the best fit for the type of information you want to convey. Keep it simple. Be succinct. Tell the story. Use visualisations that guide actions and encourage timely decisions. If you do all of these things then visualisations can help make your data carry a lot more weight, become more memorable, and greatly increase the chance of it having the desired impact and creating the preferred insights.
At 4Front we specialise in helping companies in the financial sector to tackle their key challenges. Contact us today to see how we can help you.