You’ve got the data, now what? You and your team are up against the clock. You don’t want the competition to get the jump on you, so you need a striking piece of visualization and you need to publish and deploy that visualization as soon as possible.

But, as the old adage goes, ‘less haste, more speed’. Of course, time is of the essence, but data visualization is not something to rush headlong into. Instead, a considered approach is necessary. Which techniques will best represent the narrative you want to highlight? How can you create the biggest impact possible? Which techniques will help you achieve your aims?

These are the questions you need to ask yourself as you select the perfect form of visualization. Take a look below for inspiration before you get started.

The Visualization: Timeline

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We are all aware of the power of the timeline. We’ve seen these handy features deployed to great effect in history textbooks back at school and in documentaries on television. For organizing data in chronological order, it is difficult to beat this kind of simple but effective visualization technique.

What’s It Good For?

Timelines provide a striking visual reference, enabling content users to witness changes in the data over time. It also gives us the opportunity to pick out certain key moments in the development of a data set, and use these key moments as framing devices for the insight we want to highlight.

If your data includes a chronological element, or if you wish to highlight a progression, then this is the sort of basis you need. The Evolution of Video Game Controllers by Pop Chart Lab is a prime example.

The Visualization: Deep Interactivity

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Sometimes a simple visual just will not cut it. For these situations, it is important for the content user to be able to immerse themselves fully in the data, gaining a keen understanding of its different facets and aspects. This is when deep interactivity comes into its own.

What’s It Good For?

If you are presenting data at different levels, this is the technique you need to be using. Giving your users the opportunity to drill down into the data and gain a deeper insight is vital here, and interactivity enables a more personalized experience for the user.

It also gives you more scope to explore and get to grips with vast amounts of data. Look at the New York Times’ Renting vs. Buying visualization for inspiration. The NYT’s visualizers employ sliding scales and user input to deliver vital information.

The Visualization: Before and After

This is the classic comparison piece; a striking visual which you can use to outline the effects of an event in great detail. Based upon the concept of ‘showing, not telling’ – which I have discussed in an earlier piece – this visualization technique demonstrates a quantifiable benefit to be achieved.

What’s It Good For?

If you need to demonstrate the worth of a product, service or other commodity, this is your go-to piece of visualization. Few things have such a profound impact as a visual representation of ‘life before the adoption of Software-X’ contrasted with ‘life after the adoption of Software-X’.

On a wider social scale, Periscopic highlighted the poignant power of this kind of visualization when they compared U.S. gun killings in 2010 and 2013. Take a look at that one by clicking here.

The Visualization: Enhanced Connectivity

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With some data narratives, the connections are obvious; with others, you need to demonstrate these connections to the content user. If the data you are working with falls into the latter category, then the connections must be displayed clearly in your visualization.

What’s It Good For?

As well as showing connections, this approach also outlines the different choices that an individual has and the ramifications of each choice.

Liveplasma outlines this style of data visualization with aplomb. This service predicts musical tastes based on connections between artists, providing music fans with a useful tool for discovering new tunes.

The Visualization: Getting Animated

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Animated content tends to be more striking than a simple image; it captures the attention and holds it while you deliver your narrative. That said, an animated visualization is not suitable for all types of data. For example, a snapshot of the landscape of the data at any given time is going to be better represented by a traditional infographic.

What’s It Good For?

The key here is progression. If you are aiming to highlight areas of growth or decline within the narrative of your visualization, an animated segment is incredibly useful. Think of this as an expanded version of the timeline, enabling content users to explore the data as it unfolds before them.

Hans Rosling’s groundbreaking global health visualization is a prime example of an animated progression in action.

The Visualization: Relative Scale

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Scale can be a difficult thing to get a handle on. Often, what the human brain needs is a handy comparison tool to really understand relative sizes in real terms. Relative scale – when deployed within a visualization – gives a quick and easy reference point for understanding scale.

What’s It Good For?

It depends on what you want to highlight. If you are aiming to draw attention to differences in volume, capacity or across another metric, then this is the option to go for. Utilizing scale in your visualizations is ideal for when you wish to compare and contrast different data components for dramatic effect.

The visuals used by the World Resources Institute when highlighting changes in global food consumption are striking examples of this technique.

This is – of course – merely the tip of the iceberg. Data visualization is a constantly evolving discipline, and the techniques we use are in regular flux. The point here is that we – as data visualizers – must adopt a considered approach to the data we use. Rushing in will help no one. Instead, we need to stop, think, and strategize as we work to produce mind-blowing visuals for our content users.

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