Is Data Visualization still just a buzzword?

If asked this question two years ago, my answer would have been a resounding “Yes.” At that time, the focus was on displaying data using visualizations that were pleasing to the eye to help make a sale, impress the “C” levels, and to put a check mark in the box of capabilities. But times, and needs, have rapidly changed.

The tools available just two years ago were cumbersome to work with and the landscape only had a few major players. Fast forward to today, and the landscape is full of choices in both on premise and cloud based tools. It’s not just the toolsets that have changed however. It is also the maturation of best practices that have brought data visualization from a buzzword to a necessity for all companies, large and small.

So what are some of the best practices? How do I make data visualization succeed for my organization?

Here are a few keys to ensuring success.

1. Use the right visualization.

It’s a lot like when the newest iPhone comes out, and everyone races to be the first to get it. Only after the purchase however, you realize that there wasn’t that much of a difference from the previous version and you gain no productivity. Don’t be in a rush to use a new visualization just to say you can use it. Make sure that it tells the user something and is organized in a way that they can learn quickly. Nothing will kill a dashboard or report more quickly than ineffective visualizations.

2. 10 seconds to learn

The key to any dashboard or report is that the consumer must be able to have at least one takeaway in the first 10 seconds. This will lead to a higher adaption rate and make your audience come back begging for more data.

3. More isn’t better

Don’t overwhelm your audience with a dashboard or report that has too many visualizations. We have all seen demo dashboards with 10, 15 or even more visualizations. Although it looks impressive, it’s best to ask yourself questions such as: ‘Did I learn anything?’ and / or ‘Did it tell me a story?’ Most likely your answer will be no.

4. Tell a Story

Make sure that the data is always telling a story and not just being displayed for the sake of displaying. This is often found in situations where an attempt has been made to move an operational report into a visualization tool. Operational reports have their place in the story but it should be 2 or 3 levels deep with supporting visualizations first that have a drill path to the transaction level details.

5. Use Files/Slicers

Don’t create multiple copies of the same report just to show a different product, category or client. Use filters and/or slicers to help slice and dice your report and give your audience one place to go to get all their data. This gives one other benefit that individual reports don’t give and that is aggregate values across multiple products, categories and clients.

Take a look at the two reports below and try to apply the keys to data visualization above.

Report 1.

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Report 2.

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Did you notice that each report has the same data? Were you able to learn more from Report 2? While both reports have the same data, the right visualizations makes a difference in immediate comprehension. Using column charts to show trended data over time verses a bar chart allows the eyes to easily move from left to right and see the patterns. Next, tree maps are a great replacement for the age old pie chart, as not only do they show large amounts of data in a readable format, they also take your eyes in a progression from left to right as the size decreases. Additionally, funnel charts tell a much more concise story compared to a bar or line chart and draw you to not only see the values decrease, but also creates a visualization that quickly shows the disparity between values.

What’s next? If you haven’t already begun to adapt the concepts of data visualization within your organization, now is one of the best times to start. There is a right tool out there for everyone. If you find yourself wondering where to begin, reach out to a provider already offering data visualizations in your area of expertise. You don’t always have to recreate the wheel to take advantage of the areas of efficiency that they offer.