Communicating information to others in a way they will easily comprehend is a skill much in demand today.
Back in 2009, Google’s Chief Economist Dr. Hal R. Varian predicted, “The ability to take data—to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it—that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades.”
It hasn’t taken decades for that prediction to come true. LinkedIn recently ranked data analysis as the only skill category in the top four in all the countries they analysed.
How does data visualisation work?
Data visualisation means taking that mountain of data—statistics, opinions, trends—and conveying it through charts and graphs. How can that help your business? Data visualisation allows business leaders to communicate trends and make predictions. It can be a powerful tool to enable decision-makers to understand what’s happening and to influence their strategy.
According to the authors of A Tour Through the Visualization Zoo, “The goal of visualization is to aid our understanding of data by leveraging the human visual system’s highly-tuned ability to see patterns, spot trends, and identify outliers.”
What data visualisation tools to use?
The challenge here is to create effective and engaging visualisations that are appropriate to both the data and your audience.
The vehicle you use to convey your data in a meeting will depend on the size of your business and the complexity of the data. A simple whiteboard could be all that’s needed in some cases. But if you want to interpret a lot of data in a way that will be easily grasped and remembered, there is a staggering array of software tools available.
Bernard Marr contributed an article to Forbes with what he believed to be the 7 best software tools out there. For each of these, Marr outlines the reasons why these are the most popular, and explains the advantages of each one. They are:
How do you do it?
The Australian National Data Service (ANDS) says that a good visualisation should help the viewers to think about the substance rather than the way it is presented. It should never distort the data. It should be able to present many numbers in a small space, but still make large data sets easy to comprehend.
ANDS also provides these helpful tips for creating a visualisation that will fulfil all those criteria:
- A really good visualisation conveys a message or story. Ask yourself, what I am trying to say with this data?
- Keep it simple. Avoid using three dimensional graphs for two dimensional data, and don’t go for gratuitous use of colour or unnecessary embellishments.
- Look for natural mappings. Time series often work best along the x-axis of a chart. Spatial data may work best on a map.
- Highlight relevant information. You can do this by subduing the colour of less important information, using line thicknesses, or using size for emphasis.
- Make comparisons clear.
How does data visualisation help?
One of the greatest advantages of data visualisation, when done right, is to lift the gems out of the clutter. Endless data is readily available in the public domain—information about demographics, popular opinion, economic developments. You need to ask the right questions, identify the appropriate data, and then determine just how that should be visualised for the effect that you want.
Data visualisation works by associating data values with particular graphical features, such as size, shape, colour, or position. Connections between these features can help your audience draw conclusions and make decisions. Or it may simply be a matter of convincing your audience of what you already believe: that they should buy this product, that the company should go in this direction, or that a marketing campaign targeting millennials is justified.
How much is too much?
Remember why you want to use a data visualisation in the first place. It’s not to look cool, although that may be a welcome spinoff. Have in mind what you are trying to achieve, whether that’s to convince, to motivate, or to explain.
In moving toward that goal, keep only the data that is relevant and necessary. Garish colours, 3-D effects, and cute pictures will only clutter your presentation and make it difficult to see what you’re trying to convey.
You can check out some truly frightening examples of bad data visualisations here.
A motivating presentation should convey information clearly. Your purpose should be evident to your audience, and data visualisation can help. If you can avoid going overboard with the bells and whistles, then your presentation may stand out from the crowd and get the results you want.
Do you have an upcoming meeting where you need to present visual information to a group? Karstens has a variety of well-appointed meeting and conference spaces with the latest technology to show your visuals to the best possible advantage. Give us a call to discuss your needs today.