If we asked you what data visualisation was about, what would you say? The easy answer is that data visualisation is simply about the display of data, and to many, it is. For real value though, data visualisation needs to be about displaying data in a way that is easy to understand and learn from. It’s very tempting, once you’ve decided what data visualisation software you’re going to use, to pick out the most exciting charts you can find and cram them into a dashboard. Give it a nifty title like “Winter Insights 2018” and job done. The trouble is, there’s been no consideration given to what story you are attempting to tell with the data, who is going to be using the dashboards, or even how easy it will be to look at.
Thankfully, turning a cluttered, confusing dashboard into one that is both easy to understand and insightful isn’t a difficult task. If you keep in mind the following key principles, tips and tricks your dashboards will supply you with much more value from your data.
Our first principle to follow is to keep your data visualisation as concise as possible. If you have to spend more than a few minutes looking at a dashboard to figure out what’s going on, it’s too confusing. Don’t include every metric you’re measuring, and don’t use every graph you can get your hands on. Always keep in mind what you are trying to show with the data and use the metrics and visualisations most suited to that. Really, you shouldn’t have any more than 12 metrics per dashboard. If you think that’s too low, then we’d suggest splitting them up into multiple dashboards.
Making good use of colour can also help to make your data visualisation more effective. But this also needs to be kept in check. Use colour, but don’t go crazy, keep it nice and simple. Use different tones to emphasise particular aspects you are interested in. Red and green are natural choices for emphasising negative and positive measurements.
Your data visualisation software should help to make things clearer, so the dashboards themselves also need to have a well-adhered to structure and hierarchy. You don’t want the stories behind the data to get lost between random patterns. Depending on what data you are presenting you might order it alphabetically, sequentially, or by value. As long as it is intuitive to the data you’re presenting and you’re consistent with your approach you’ll be okay.
You can also bring order to your data visualisation with how you lay out your dashboards. Grouping charts into topics is a good start. There’s no use hiding finance figures between two charts logging server downtime for example. Bear in mind as well, that in general a user’s eye will be drawn to the top-left of the page first. So, think about putting your most important chart there for starters.
Just because your dashboards are all about the data doesn’t mean you can just forget about the words that will be on there too. As your dashboards will only usually have a handful of words, you need to ensure you’re making good use of them. So, first off, keep any headers or graph labels to the point. Avoid getting punny or channelling your inner Shakespeare, it’s wasted here. Identify the quickest path to comprehension for your users and take that route.
Likewise, spare your users the intricate fonts and unnecessary text-colours. If there are points you’d really like to emphasise, a simple bold or italic is more than sufficient. A clutter-free dashboard is data visualisation done well.
Data visualisation has the potential to be transformative for modern business. Indeed, it is and has been already for many. It needs to be handled with some care, however. Charge in and throw hundreds of charts on a page and you’ll end up with data confusion, rather than data clarity. Getting the most from data visualisation means approaching it in the right way and enabling the data to be the star of the show and chief storyteller.
Less is almost always more in these instances. Less data used, fewer visualisations, and fewer words on the page. Identify what the purpose of the visualisation or dashboard is, who it is intended for, and what they’d find most useful from it. Then, put only what contributes to that picture in. Nothing more. It will take some discipline, we all love a colourful bar chart after all, but it will pay off.
If you’d like to talk to one of our experts about extracting maximum value from your data visualisation, get in touch today.