Data Visualization, Not Just another Buzz Word

Ryan Bien
Group Vice President - Client Deliverables, Connected Data, Search & Social

Kristina Feltz
Director of Data Design, NA Creative Lead


In a world that can be sometimes cynical, it is easy to fall into the habit of thinking that if something is talked about often, especially in business, that it is a ‘Buzz Word’.   In some cases this may be true, but the topic of data visualization is not one of these instances.  David McCandless, founder of Information is Beautiful has said, “By visualizing information, we turn it into a landscape that you can explore with your eyes.  A sort of information map.  And when you’re lost in information, an information map is kind of useful.”   This has never been more the case in the world of research than it is right now.

Today, there are numerous data sources required to tell the full story around how a brand or a product is performing and bringing those data sources together in a way which clearly communicates the underlying story as clearly and concisely as possible, is one of the primary goals around data visualization.  Some may believe this can be achieved by adding some icons or other treatments like shadows and boxes to try and highlight key data points, however this becomes clutter and will end up distracting the viewer from the key insights.  Think of a museum exhibit, each item displayed is curated and specifically chosen as it will add value to the overall story.  If a museum displayed every artifact it had, it would be information overload and the visitors would be confused.  Data visualization should help tell the story, not distract from it.  This is especially the case when we are developing data visualizations using online interactive BI tools and dashboards.

Interactive tools need to be developed with intuitive navigation that can be hidden as not to interfere with the story.  Data should be displayed in a clean and intuitive way which can often be accomplished with the strategic use of font, color and whitespace.  Properly utilizing font size and a balanced color scheme of neutrals and a spot color will establish a hierarchy which will guide the end user to intuitively understand the different levels of importance that exist within the visualization.  Icons or logos should only be used if they are meaningful, effectively describe the data being shown and most importantly aid the user in comprehension.

The reality is that the more compelling the design, the deeper the response.  According to Google, humans are 30 times more likely to digest high quality visualization and Infographics than they are text.  This is a very powerful and important thought and puts a lot of responsibility on our shoulders as designers, analysts and story tellers to effectively visualize data.  There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to visualize data, but the importance of the basic principles discussed above should serve as a road map to high quality data delivery, especially as our datasets continue to grow even larger.  Data visualization is not a buzz word, it is here to stay, and it is our data’s opportunity to make a powerful first impression. 

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