With so much data being created in today’s world, it can be a tremendous task to organize and understand it.
Despite being considered “boring” by many people, data has its place in the business world. Research from Statista found that the top three leading benefits for using big data in business were greater insights into the customer experience that could be worked into new strategies, the ability to analyze consumer feedbackto determine what products customers want, and better understanding customers’ opinions on current products and services.
Data visualizations are especially useful on the web, because they both catch the reader’s eye and allow the reader to more quickly consume important information.
In 2012 Column Five Media and business intelligence company DOMO worked together on an infographic that illustrates the rate at which data is created in one minute online. For example, every minute Google receives over two million search queries, the mobile web receives 217 new users, and Instagram users share 3,600 new photos. The numbers have only grown over the past few years, which raises the question: How can this data be understood and be made actionable?
At its core, data visualization better allows end users to “see” and digest data, which results in a greater understanding of the numbers. It is a broad term that applies to any attempt at helping audiences understand data by putting it in a visual model. With data visualizations, people can more readily spot trends and patterns within data, which helps them communicate their thoughts and ideas faster. In business, this enhanced speed of thought can be good news for the bottomline.
The upside of data visualization is that it makes data more easily accessible to more people. The downside is that these visualizations can become complicated or confusing. Creators of data visualizations could also potentially embellish or misrepresent data with their visual interpretations, whether intentionally or not. It is therefore important that content creators strictly adhere to codes of ethics (such as that created by the Society of Professional Journalists) and remain mindful of their audience.
Researchers from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined what makes data visualizations memorable for the average viewer. They found faces and “human-centric scenes” are generally easy for people to remember while images of landscapes are not. The research also showed that certain things in particular made a visualization more memorable, for example colorful or dense visualizations. Surprisingly, the researchers found that unusual chart types such as tree diagrams are more memorable than more common place one like bar graphs and pie charts.
The researchers from Harvard and MIT also raised an excellent point in their findings: being memorable isn’t the most important part of a visualization. Rather visualizations need to be easy to understand, context appropriate, and accurate.
Today’s data visualizations are certainly more sophisticated than ever before in the past, but the most important point remains the same: a data visualization needs to factually represent and summarize the data while allowing the viewer to make conclusions based on that data.
About the Author
Nick Rojas is a journalist and business consultant based in Los Angeles, CA. and Chicago, IL. You can follow him on Twitter @NickARojas.