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22 December 2023 - 7 minutes

The Art and Science of Data Visualization: Communicating Insights Effectively

Collecting and analyzing your data is just one part of the data analyst journey. 

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We’ve said it a million times and we’ll say it a million more: your insights are useless if you can’t properly communicate your findings to the appropriate audience. And in a world where data is becoming increasingly important and widespread, the gravity of properly presenting your results has never been more significant. 

And that’s exactly why we wrote this article; we want to help you understand first why data is so crucial, especially in today’s world, and then not only explain the importance of communicating your insights effectively, but also the best practices for data visualization. 

Ready? Let’s dive right in. 

Why is Data So Important?

You’ve probably heard people say that they want to wait for the results of a test to make a decision or compare data to figure out the best way forward–this isn’t just for fun; data provides us with evidence as to why something is the best decision. It takes the guesswork out of decision making and although you’ll never reach a point where you’re 100% certain of how something will go because there are a lot of outside factors that affect outcomes, data helps you make an informed and educated decision. 

For the vast majority of companies, data is one of the most important elements of their decision making process because: 

  • Data helps flag and fix problems: if you are using data to track progress and advances over time, you’ll be more likely to both see and identify any problems that are occurring. For example, if one specific market is performing worse than others, you can look at the data from that area to flag the issue and then find a potential solution. Without data, you might be aware that there’s a problem somewhere, but be unable to actually solve the problem. 

  • Data allows you to make informed decisions: when it comes to major decisions and even smaller, day-to-day ones, they can have a serious impact on the company. You can’t be just making decisions without evidence or data about why something is likely to work well and data provides the proof you need to reach the right decision. 

  • Data lets you defend your decisions: as you reach higher leadership positions, you’re going to be asked why you made a decision, especially when those decisions affect the entire company. And thanks to your data, you’ll be able to show your exact decision making process. 

  • Data allows you to progress towards your goals: taking steps in the right direction is quite the challenge without any sort of guidance or indication that you’re doing the right thing. By checking in with data throughout the entire process, you’ll be better suited to both reach your goals and stop problems in their tracks before they become major. 

With a clear understanding of exactly why data is so crucial to all business, regardless of industry, we can move on to the good stuff: data visualization. 

What is Data Visualization? 

Well, it’s just like it sounds: data visualization is the practice of displaying data in a visual manner, such as through charts or graphs, so that it’s better understood. You might be wondering why data visualization is so crucial–after all, if you understand the data well enough to put it into visual formats, there’s no need to visualize it, right? Well, data visualization is so crucial, especially in large companies, because: 

  • It helps people better understand the data: not everyone is great with numbers and depending on your industry, raw numbers could be nearly impossible to comprehend for many. When displayed visually, the important takeaways may be easier to understand for those who aren’t great with math.

  • It gets right to the good stuff: when you’re processing large amounts of data, you’ll probably end up with tons of results–-and not all are important enough to share with stakeholders or members of other teams and some may be irrelevant to what you’re currently working towards. By taking the important pieces of data aside and making them visually appealing, you’re getting right to the point. 

  • It helps highlight inconsistencies: this point is for you, the data analyst, more so than for your colleagues. When looking at rows and rows of identical seeming data, it can be tough to decipher if there’s something missing in the data or an error with the data entry; the visualization of the data can help highlight outliers or errors in a faster and more efficient manner. 

  • It increases productivity: similarly to what we mentioned above, well-presented data is simply easier to understand and you’ll be able to reach the right decision faster and with more ease if you employ data visualization strategies. 

The Art and Science of Data Visualization

You know why data visualization is so important and what makes it such a popular choice by data analysts all over; it’s time to discover some of the intricacies of data visualization and to begin, let’s discuss the very title of this article: the art and science that makes up data visualization. 

As you’re well aware, data analytics is a science; it involves a detailed knowledge of statistics and math to properly collect, sort, and analyze data. Data visualization, on the other hand, can be defined as an art; it’s something that takes practice and precision to know how to display data in a both educational and appealing manner. 

Data visualization can take many forms and it ultimately depends on your specific data set and goals to know which will best fit your project. The majority, however, will take the form of one of the following: 

  • Charts: there are lots of different forms of charts out there and you can choose to use columns or other shapes to represent the data on two axes. This is one of the most common choices in data visualization due to general familiarity with charts and various options. 

  • Tables: for more number-based data sets, tables are useful, especially when comparing many variables. 

  • Graphs: if you are working with two variables, specifically numbers, graphs can be great ways to visually display growth or differences over time. 

  • Infographics: useful for when your findings require a bit more explanation, infographics combine words and data to fully explain your message. 

As we mentioned, there are lots of other ways to visually display your data and ultimately, the most important thing to do is find the manner that works best for you and your specific project. Remember, you might need to choose different methods for different data sets or even for different audiences; your end goal is to make your findings understandable for your audience. 

The art of data visualization 

Data visualization is truly an art and you’ll have to commit to learning how to make your data work best for you throughout your career. But if you’re looking for some tips and tricks to making your data visualization process a true art, you’re in the right place.

Keep it simple 

Less is more and that’s definitely the case in data visualization. You’ll probably have large amounts of data in your initial analysis and when looking to present the data to stakeholders or other team members, pick the most important findings to communicate your results; focus on exactly what they need to know and don’t get caught up in including absolutely everything.

Make it easy for your audience 

You’re already using data visualization tools to make the comprehension process easier and more straightforward for the user; when you’re actually in the process of visualizing your data, choose contrasting colors and different symbols for different ideas to ensure that your point is easily understood. 

Tell a story

As fun as it is to create engaging and pretty designs, remember the purpose of visualizing your data: communicating your outcomes to your audience in a clear and succinct manner. And to do so, it’s best to use storytelling techniques in your design, which will help communicate your overall message. For example, begin by defining the problem you set out to solve with your data, how you collected your data points, and then the outcome. This timeline will help your audience connect more with the message, in addition to truly understanding the entire picture. 

Be flexible 

The ideal data visualization technique simply doesn’t exist; it depends on you and your audience and you’ll need to try out different methods before you find the one that sticks and works well. Don’t be afraid to present various options to your audience to ensure comprehension and then ask for feedback to see what worked and what you could improve upon. 

At Ironhack, we know the importance of data and how it can truly transform a company, allowing you to make better decisions. But we also realize that not everyone is data-minded and that’s why we’re such strong proponents of data visualization, an integral part of our Data Analytics Bootcamp curriculum.

Our expert instructors will guide you through the entire data analytics process in our bootcamp, including data visualization, to ensure that once you’re at your first tech job, you’re prepared to properly communicate your findings to your company.

If this sounds like the right path for you, we can’t wait to see you in class!

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