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Data is a powerful tool for influencing decisions. If you sell technical solutions, there’s a good chance that you use data to make your points. Readers will make the effort to understand complicated information if it is attractive and welcoming.
You may also know that one problem which most readers encounter is that bar charts and line graphs start to look the same. Another problem is that when people read your data, they don’t know what its main point is. If your audience is like most, their eyes glaze over when given too much information, even if it’s meaningful. These days, there is so much data that it pays to make it look better.
So… 1) you need to get people to read it and 2) it needs to make a point clearly. Fortunately, data visualization addresses both needs at the same time.
Data visualization is the presentation of numbers, facts, charts and graphs in a visually appealing format to enhance comprehension. In other words, we apply principles of graphic design—color, weight, emphasis, time-delay of perception, pre-processing information, benefit statements, etc.—to make data ready for easy consumption.
Data visualization is part art and part science. As with any discipline, there are some fundamentals that hold true for all projects. While this post can’t answer all of your questions, thinking about the points below should help to point you in the right direction and hopefully help to communicate your message better.
The following items cover the main points to think about as you embark on a data visualization project.
1. Set Goals
Review the data and determine the main point. Consider whether the main point is clearly communicated or if the user needs to read between the lines to get the value. What are the benefits to the reader for understanding? What are the benefits to you for the reader understanding?
2. Do the Math
If the numbers you need to communicate don’t exist in plain sight, that means your audience will need to work to get to the point. Don’t make them read between the lines. If you want them to get to a conclusion, consider putting that conclusion in black-and-white. Go ahead and do the math to get the actual values that you want them to read. Then you’ll be sure they are seeing the data that you want them to consume.
3. Reduce Clutter & Simplify
One of the single biggest keys in getting people to see what you want is limiting the things that you don’t want them to see. With fewer things to look at, the reader can focus and dedicate more brainpower to understanding your message. When deciding what to include, ask yourself, “Does this support my main point?” If not, get rid of it. Such details can add up quickly and amount to a lot of noise without necessarily increasing a reader’s comprehension. Keep your graphics simple and iconic.
4. Use Color
Using colors is a simple, attractive and subtle way to influence your reader’s opinions and feelings about data without you having to use any additional words. Bright colors stand out and dull colors recede. Combining the two allows you to highlight information that needs to be emphasized while keeping necessary supporting info.
5. Test & Test Again
Two things that we test for when we’re wrapping up a data visualization project are:
- Does it grab a reader’s attention? You can tell simply by how long a reader looks at the graphic.
- Do they understand what it is saying? When data visualization is done right, the information will speak for itself and people will listen and your readers can tell you clearly what they learned.
Following these five steps to data visualization will give you a much better chance of making your message interesting enough to be read, and clear enough to be understood.