Rules? But thou art is creating a work of art. And art knows no rules!
Is it? Or is it not?
Well, presentation of data is more than just another work of art. Of course it is a science. And yes, science does have its own set of rules and norms. Which, if we abide by, we can strike the right chord. And if we don’t then our effort may backfire.
Now before we get to the point, ask yourself a question. Why do we visualize data? The answer is simple. We do not want to overwhelm anyone with big and complex data, rather we focus on breaking those data into easily understandable nuggets of valuable information. The viewers must fathom whatever your data represents, within a minute. Any longer than that, and you lose a potential client.
That being said, data display is both science and art intertwined! And as I said above it has rules as well. So what are those rules? How can we make sure our charts are easy to understand? For you, we’ve come up with five.
Hope these 5 rules of effective data visualization help you to visualize your data better and to tell powerful stories from your insights.
Rule #1: Ensure Your Visualization Answers A Question
Perhaps this is the most crucial aspect for any data visualization process. Consider what this data will be used for. Create a wireframe that answers the questions that will drive meaningful action in your organization. What KPIs are vital to answering strategic questions for your business? What metrics do you need top include? If your data visualization doesn’t tell a story, then what’s the point of presenting it in front of your target audience?
Delve into the problems that your visualization is trying to solve and questions that it is trying to answer. Also the message that you want to convey through the presentation to your audience must be taken care of.
It should not take longer than a minute for a reader to look at the graphs and charts and understand the purpose that it is meant for. If any in depth explanation is required, then you might still have to work upon the visualization. No matter how beautiful your numbers, charts and graphs are, if you don’t deliver useful conclusions and insights from the data, you are at a backfoot.
Ensuring your data visualization answers a question, is an efficient approach to make it a hit.
Rule #2: Use The Right Method Of Visualization
We all know that the four commonly used chart types are the bar chart, line chart, scatter chart and pie chart. However, there are more varieties of charts as these four charts may not suffice at making your point. More often than not people tend to opt simple bar charts, but unfortunately bar charts may not be the right choice! Though they are very good at conveying data about different categories.
Once you have a complete focus of what the purpose your visualization is striving for, choosing the right type of graph is of utmost importance. As a general rule of thumb, line graphs are used to illustrate changes over time, while bar and pie charts are used to show categorical data. If the goal is to display proportions, use a bar chart. If the goal is to display a trend, use a line chart. And if the goal is to display relationships between variables, use a scatter plot.
Rule #3: Make Your Graphs And Charts Readable
Sadly, it is a basic human tendency to overload something with more than what is needed. We think that increases the value of it. What we don’t think is, rather the clutter and overload degrades the value. If you clutter your graphs with a bunch of unnecessary metrics, you’ll lose the impact and make it hard to understand. Keep it clean, folks and lose all the clutter! Though you may have to label up your graphs, but use your discretion.
Apart from this, always pick out colors that stand out. By default Excel typically uses blue and red, but feel free to mix it up and use other colors. Jazz up your chart with lots of colours. But do not ever use 3D charts. These are next-to-impossible for the eye to comprehend, even if you use labels. they add more to the confusion of the onlookers.
Remember, Less in always More!
Rule #4: Use ‘Clean’ Fonts!
Illegible font/type doesn’t communicate with the viewers and it is the first order of failure for any data visualization, or any other graphic design which is made to convey information. Even though you can get the best fonts in Google Fonts library, if you tool doesn’t allow it, you may not be able to use it. Clean fonts increases the appeal of the presentation and makes it easier for the eye to read through. To be on the safe side, go for Roboto, Lato and Open Sans. Century Gothic or Ebrima also give your charts a clean look.
Font size is also a significant factor. Once a font becomes too small, it becomes illegible. Rules for font size vary depending on the application and the medium. For example, print maps recommend 5-6 point with minimums at 3-4 point; old design guidelines for computers recommend 9 point minimum.
Pay heed to Font contrast. This is the difference in brightness between the font and the background it is placed on. Like black text on yellow is good, yellow on white is not good.
Rule #5: Consider Your Audience
Learn a bit about your audience’s needs and goals. You need to understand what your data means to them. You cannot just isolate yourself and just look into your data while your audience looks frustrated. Good intelligence isn’t spread like this.
Take a minute to think about who will actually be looking at these graphs. What’s important to them? Do they prefer charts with a lot of information or a few simple graphs? For example, if your client/target audience is more leaned towards line graphs that span over a long period of time, then even if you normally wouldn’t have created them in this manner, since it is important in this case, you have to include line graphs in the report.
This is the very first thing you should consider before you start picking colours or think about what kind of chart you’re going to use. Also, you have to keep in mind the level of knowledge or understanding that your audience has. A ton of technical jargon or abbreviations won’t work if your audience doesn’t know what they mean.
Putting It All Together
Now that we’ve talked about things to consider when creating a graph or chart, the next part is to actually do it. Use them. Break them. But don’t forget, each time charts or graphs are not the best way to convey message. Make use of the power of simplicity. Leonardo da Vinci have rightly said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” This is still so relevant even in the 21st century!