The Benefits of Data Visualization + 8 Best Practices
Director of Content Marketing, Sigma
There’s a reason why any presenter worth their salt offers a slide show alongside their speech. Humans can process data quickly when it’s presented in a visual format. With the amount of data we’re exposed to increasing with every second of the day, we need more sophisticated ways of presenting data to the world.
Data visualization has emerged as one of the best ways to absorb large amounts of information, present data to key stakeholders, and tell a compelling story. Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of data visualization, along with eight best practices to keep in mind when creating your next dashboard, chart, or diagram.
Benefits of data visualization
Visualized data is processed faster
Our brains are programmed for visual data. Did you know that your retina can transmit visual input at roughly 10 million bits per second — which is about the same rate as an Ethernet connection? According to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, the retina is a piece of the brain that has grown into the eye, and its capabilities can rival that of some of our most advanced technologies. While the human mind is capable of incredible feats, most of us do not easily understand complex statistical models or digest large datasets. However, we are adept at spotting patterns within visualized data.
Visualization allows for near-instant absorption of high amounts of data
The world produces more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day. The amount of information your company collects continues to grow each year exponentially. And with increasing global competition comes a higher demand for ways to leverage your data to make better business decisions. Time is money, and most of us can’t spend countless hours combing over big data. Whether you want to know which market to expand to next, what product feature should be on the roadmap, or which channel to invest your marketing dollars into, the ability to take large amounts of data and turn it into an easy to understand visual is an invaluable asset for any organization.
Data visualization supports visual learners
According to developmental molecular biologist Dr. John Medina, we’re 65% more likely to remember information if it includes an image. And many of us are visual learners. You’ll make a more significant impact if you show someone something, as opposed to simply telling them. Dashboards are a great way to display several visualizations in one place, giving the viewer — whether it’s a co-worker, partner, or member of the board — a holistic view of the data, and showing how different datasets relate to one another.
Data visualization gives actionable insights
When done right, data visualizations should give the viewer insight into what to do about whatever problem your data is trying to solve. If it doesn’t, you’ve collected, analyzed, and visualized your data in vain. Data is only useful if insights can be drawn, collection alone isn’t inherently valuable. It’s not only costly but can also be dangerous from a privacy and security perspective. Instead, give your data purpose by creating visualizations that answer a question to a critical business problem your company faces.
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8 Data visualization best practices
Define your goal – What do you want to achieve with your visualization? Ideally, there’s a business question that you need the answer. Begin with the question in mind by defining the purpose of your data visualization so that in the end, it takes you exactly where you want to go.
Know your audience – Who will see your visualization — your co-workers, partners, customers, management team, or other internal or external stakeholders? Each one of these parties has varying levels of awareness, understanding, and interest in your data. Ensure that your visualization appeals to your audience. Leave out any information that is not important and make it easy for them to understand.
Pick wisely – There are more ways to visualize data than there are days in a month. Some are very simple, while others are incredibly complex. Selecting the right medium can make or break the effectiveness of your visualization. A modern data visualization software solution can help make this critical decision for you. Read our guide to learn the 21 most common visualizations.
Provide meaning- Use comparisons when available to offer your audience a deeper understanding of the data. But, ensure you’re always comparing apples to apples. Otherwise, you can end up diluting your message and losing audience trust.
Keep it simple – While data is complex, your data visualization shouldn’t be. Rember the KISS design principle, an acronym for “keep it simple stupid,” because less is almost always more.
Foster engagement – Offer ways to make your data interactive. Allow viewers to manipulate it, highlight key sections, remove what they don’t need and keep what they do.
Design iteratively – Create your data visualization, show it to a segment of your audience, gather feedback, and if there’s any room for improvement, don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board and design it again before releasing it to a broader audience.
Tell a story – The beauty in any data visualization isn’t in the colors used or the amount of information you’ve managed to cram into it. It’s about the story it tells. Consider what narrative you want your data to convey and what elements you can implement to tell that story more effectively.
A modern data visualization tool can do much of the heavy lifting for you, from data analysis to picking the right medium to tell your data story. But you have to put in some serious work on the front end by defining the purpose of your visualization and making an effort to get to know your audience. However, if you take these best practices to heart, it will pay off in spades when creating your next data visualization.
Thirsty for more? Make sure to explore these additional resources on data visualization: