Remember the time when that data-strewn Excel spreadsheet you were reading was so compelling that you couldn’t help but climb into bed with your laptop? Oh, you don’t? Well, that’s because it didn’t happen. Ever.
Why we need data visualization.
For the vast majority of us, sifting through page after page of numbers crammed into the columns of a spreadsheet is as tediously mind-numbing as it is an unproductive waste of time. Still, while none of us really wants to do it, the truth is that the data buried in those files often tell vitally important stories of triumph, progress, and innovation. Whether it’s the pageviews or the amount of time people have spent with a new piece of content you produced or last year’s blockbuster revenue and profit growth, data must be presented in a way that is both compelling and instantly digestible.
Tools of the Trade
Fortunately, there is a wide menu of options for presenting data in an easily understandable and visually appealing way. Selecting whether to use a pie chart, bar graph, or line chart depends on what kind of information is being represented. Here are some examples:
- Pie charts are an effective way to show how a number of metrics add up to 100 percent. For example, companies can use a pie chart to quickly relate how they allocated their annual budget. Keep in mind, though, that pie charts become difficult to read if they have too many slices — more than five will kill a viewer’s appetite.
- Vertical bar graphs are a handy way to compare categories and parts of a whole. For instance, a bar graph can show how a company’s sales vary by quarter.
- Line charts are a snappy tool for showing trends over time. Executives and investors salivate when they see a line representing a company’s stock price go straight up over a year.
Coherence is Essential
There are plenty of other tools that can visually represent a company’s innovation process, including flowcharts, scatter plots, comparison charts, and on and on.
While it’s important to choose the right tool to best visualize your data, don’t forget to think about where people will see the individual graphic. For instance, in an annual report where there will be lots of charts and graphs, it’s a big benefit to readers to create a consistent visual language.
When representing various datasets across many pages consistency is key. That means all the various graphs and charts have the same look and use the same parameters and color hierarchy.
- If the United States is blue, Ireland is green, and Australia is black in the first chart, keep the colors the same throughout your presentation, report, etc.
- When comparing performance over time periods, ensure that your x-axis uses a consistent range, otherwise the comparisons are confusing and can be misrepresentative.
- While your y-axis can vary, make sure that when making comparisons the intervals are consistent. Showing an increase on a scale of 0 – 50 in increments of 1 will look far more dramatic than increments of 10.
Being aware of these visual cues and how they help they reader smoothly interpret data makes for a much more pleasurable and effective reading experience. It provides the kind of consistency readers need to flip through a long report and still grasp the information quickly.
Who knows, they may even take it to read in bed.