Creating data visualization that conveys information in a way that captures attention requires a basic understanding of its art.  You’re telling a story that must offer a sense of immediacy while blending stunning images. The beauty exists in the balance of these two concepts.

If you’re like most people, you’ve been exposed to infographics that include too much detail. You feel overwhelmed because your eyes aren’t sure where to go. The message gets lost in a jumble of colors, graphs, and data. Attempting to put all information into a single image undermines the entire experience.  This dilemma can be resolved through simplicity and by complying with the main elements.

Successful visualization should address the viewer by offering pictures that are artful, using the balance of these four areas:

  • Information/data: This is the core that includes integrity, accuracy, consistency, and honesty.
  • Concept/story: Translating words into a visual representation that is relevant, new, and meaningful.
  • Function/goal: Pictures are nice, but they must communicate something useful, useable, fitting, and efficient.
  • Visual/metaphor: Using images and context you create a harmonious blend of beauty, appearance, and structure.

“Like data governance standards and policies, data visualization should also have a set of standards for design, development,and storytelling.”

– Cecile Horsky, Sr. Manager, Automation & Data Assurance at Walgreens

Best Practices To Guide the Way

Going beyond the standard charts and graphs with data visualization can take information that would otherwise be boring and render them into a language that’s accessible so that your viewers understand.

Empower Your Audience

The first step in data visualization creation is making sure that you know who will be viewing it and the purpose of the visual presentation. Resist the need to address all of the questions that your viewers may have so that the concepts get simplified and the message is as clear as possible.   

The goal of your visualization is to create new insights, so you’ll want to include a call to action. Meaningful content that’s understood will go beyond the story to generate questions and conversation.

Context is Key

Your audience needs to be able to judge the numbers in the image. The metrics of comparison should show a clear set of goals with the current status. The more clearly you present the visual, the easier it will be for them to comprehend required improvements.

Using contrasting colors is the best way to demonstrate an at-a-glance value comparison. Limit the number of colors that you select so that it isn’t overwhelming. The purpose is to get the message across in the most accessible way possible.

Keep it simple and easy to digest

Marketing gurus know that pictures and text need to be ‘snackable.’ When you are creating data visualizations your goal is to design an image that offers bite-size content to get the point across in the quickest way.  

Your data visualization will need to have information that’s both high-level yet quickly understood.  Make sure that the image allows your viewers to move forward in a logical way as more information is presented. The image should strategize effectively and answer questions.

Select the right visual to go hand-in-hand with your purpose

There are a number of different choices that you can make for your data visualization. Here are a few guidelines to select the image that will work best for you:

  • If you are tracking the relationship between two or more variables, consider line charts. These can reflect trends and changes that occur over time.
  • Comparing different category quantities may be best with Bar Charts.
  • Joint variations of two data items can be used with Scatter Plots.
  • If you have three data items, consider using Bubble Charts.
  • Parts of a whole are typically accomplished with Pie Charts, but use carefully. If you are displaying two pie charts, be sure to note any change in size of the pie that may have occurred.

Keep the Viewers Engaged

Just because you have completed a successful data visualization presentation, doesn’t mean that you can stop there. For you and the viewers, this is a data discovery journey and you need to keep the momentum going to continue the follow through on the call-to-action. You want interaction from the individuals. This requires that you ‘nudge’ them as reminders to stay engaged. Here are some ideas:

  • Set up automated notifications that offer updates in visual form. For more complex conditions, you can add a text summary that reflects changes and fluctuations.
  • Encourage your users/viewers to access the company dashboards in creating details that may be more specific for their departments and functions.
  • Use a communication strategy that ensures an open forum of information sharing for effective and focused results.

Be flexible as the needs change

You may have found the best way to communicate via data visualization to your viewers. You experienced success, accomplished your goal, and feel quite proud of yourself for getting the story across while maintaining interest, intrigue, and generating questions.

But in business, nothing stays the same and you will need to resist any temptation to continue using the same visualization in a repetitive manner. Different data and messages in the same visualizations often lead to confusion or misunderstanding.

Examine each presentation and the data set as a unique part of the story. Change the visual, including colors and style so that it is fresh and new.  

If using side-by-side comparisons, you can bring in previous versions to demonstrate differences. But highlight the latest information as the main priority.

Learn more about the art and science of data visualization. Download The Ultimate Guide To Data Visualization.

Image credit: Hsing Wei


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