Creating a work of art knows no rules. Does it or does it not? Hmmm…… Let’s dig into it!
Well, presentation of data is more than just any work of art. Of course, it’s ‘science’, and science does have its own set of rules and norms. Which, if we follow, we can strike the right chord, else our effort may backfire.
Before we get to the point, ask yourself – 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 simple and uncomplicated nuggets of valuable information. Within a minute, your viewers should grasp whatever your data represents. Any longer than that, you’ll lose a potential client.
That being said, display of data is both science and art intertwined! So what are those rules? How can we make sure our charts are easy to understand?
Here are 5 rules of effective data visualization which ’ll 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 will this data be used for. Create a wireframe that answers the questions, which will drive meaningful actions in your organization. What KPIs are vital for answering strategic questions for your business? What metrics do you need to include? If your data visualization doesn’t tell a story, then what’s the point of presenting it in front of your target audience?
Dig into those questions & problems that your visualization is trying to solve. 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 of it. 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 on the back foot.
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 than often, people tend to opt for simple bar charts, but in some ways, 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 on 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. Well actually, 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 colours 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 is 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 your 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 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 out 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!
Where to go from here?
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