When you think of data visualization, you may start thinking about numbers, graphs, and figures–yawn. Data can seem pretty boring sometimes, but most don’t acknowledge the importance of data and how it can influence the decisions that we all make; data is power and organizing it into an engaging and intuitive visualization is no easy task. Before we move into how to improve your data visualization skills, let’s dive into the basics of data visualization.
What is Data Visualization?
Data can be collected on almost anything: the number steps you walk in a day, the win-loss ratio of a football team, or the amount of time you spend on your social network apps. And the most efficient and impactful way to represent all this information is visually. The data presented will be not only impactfully and efficiently shown, but also intuitively.
The main objective for data visualization is to take complex data and present it in an easy to understand and accessible way for a wide range of users; in doing this, data visualizations can reveal patterns, trends, and further insights more easily than staring at numbers, pure data or spreadsheets. Data visualization can be shown in a limitless number of representations since there are so many graphs, charts, maps, and infographic styles to choose from; your creativity is the only limiting factor. Some data visualization examples include:
A line graph of the movement of stock prices from 1981 to now
An infographic map chart of the world’s population
A four-quadrant graph comparing ideas in terms of significance, duration, and emotions
A density plot of the night price distribution of apartments in a city
Data visualization can organize and summarize a massive amount of data that fits in one or two small graphs or infographics and the people that design them are data visualization specialists.
Becoming a data visualization specialist
Data visualization demands a person with an eye for art and a mathematically-oriented brain; you need to learn not only about data analysis, programming, and mathematics, but also shapes, color palettes, image manipulation, and graphs. You may be thinking that it sounds like a lot to learn, but it’s possible to learn all of the necessary skills through odd jobs, data visualizations courses, and certifications, such as:
An undergraduate and/or graduate degree in a subjects related to data analysis, computer science, data science, or mathematics
A certification course
A bootcamp in data analysis
Online workshops to acquire specific skills
For any profession, it’s important to develop a growth mindset and keep in mind that there is always room to learn and grow; for data visualization specialists, software is mightier than the sword.
Data visualization software
What are some of the best data visualization tools that you need to learn? There are certainly soft skills that come in handy, but let’s focus on the technical and hard skills that data visualization specialists should master, such as:
Tableau (best for interactive graphs and charts)
Microsoft Power BI (best for business intelligence)
Klipfolio (best for customizable options)
Domo (best for original apps)
Qlik Sense (best for AI)
Visual.ly (best for simple projects)
Learning how to use more than one of these data visualization tools can significantly help you in providing the most appropriate data visualization infographic for the client.
Now that you have studied data visualization, know which software and tools to use to design and have experience at a job, what can you do to improve your data visualization skills? It takes determination, practice, and an open mind, but taking the following points in mind will definitely help.
Study strong examples
Data visualization infographics are floating around the internet along with businesses and organizations that present their information in an endless amount of charts, tables, and images. When learning how to improve your skills, it’s important to analyze and close the gap between your own data visualization results and others. You can learn not only from appreciating others’ work, but also by taking inspiration from other data visualization specialists.
To go about finding those strong examples, you can do a simple Google search or check out the following websites:
Understand your data
When you are presented with a massive amount of data, it can be difficult to sort through it and truly understand what’s looking at you straight in the eye. Nevertheless, when you do finally get through all the data, you may finally understand the meaning of all those numbers.
If you want to create a more thorough and complete data visualization, try asking yourself the following questions at the end of your data analysis:
What are the main patterns and trends observed in the data?
What is the data distribution for each variable of interest?
Are there any skewness, outliers, or unusual patterns that should be further investigated? How about surprising findings or insights?
Are there any notable differences or patterns in the data when segmented by different subgroups or categories? How might these insights contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the data?
Are the drawn conclusions shocking or expected?
How might the analysis results be impacted by external factors, such as sample size, sampling bias, or non-response bias? Are there any steps that can be taken to mitigate these limitations?
If you have already asked yourself these questions, a better understanding of your data may mean asking more personalized questions or simply consulting a trusted coworker for what they may see that you cannot.
Simplify and declutter
Thinking that they’re making the best possible data visualization infographic, perfectionists may add too much and end up designing busy or overly complex charts or graphs. One of the main goals of creating data visualizations is making the information easily digestible and accessible. You may want to impress people with a lot of colors and design elements; however, this normally distracts people from the fundamental objective of the chart: the data.
If you want to make your data visualization chart refined and focused on the data, keep it simple!
Focus on design elements
As we mentioned before, you don’t want to design a cluttered chart, but you do want to ensure that your design elements are aesthetically pleasing, high-quality, and intriguing. Choosing design elements provides the opportunity for data visualization specialists to finally use the right side of their brains and create art that catches the eye and incorporate color theory, theming, font, and powerful images. Trust your creative instincts and see where they take you.
Become a storyteller
What do humans like more than anything else? A powerful and emotionally provocative story with which they can connect. Once you have all your data analyzed, you have a plot to start with and then you can build on it. You’re the author now and by leveraging all the design elements at your disposal, you have the opportunity to create so much more.
The following are questions that could be useful in creating your story:
What is the main story or message I want to convey with this data visualization?
Does the chart have a logical flow or narrative that guides the viewer through the story?
Are the visual elements and design choices supporting the storytelling aspect of the chart?
Does the chart effectively communicate the key insights or findings from the data?
Are there any distractions or unnecessary elements that may detract from the story?
Is the story clear and understandable for the audience?
Creating a story can be a difficult task; however, using data to build that story is what will give people the opportunity to connect with not only the data before them, but also the message that it wants to communicate.
Embrace the feedback
What’s a big part of life that is both scary and extremely helpful? Feedback! Exposing yourself to feedback can put you in an extremely vulnerable position and it’s completely understandable. Despite the fear it may cause, you can grow so much from listening to others give you their feedback. The most important tips to keep in mind when you receive feedback are:
People have their own points of view that are shaped by their own experiences
The purpose is to guide you where you need to make adjustments and continue on the same path
It can be hard to not take feedback personally, but if you’re able to breathe through it and recognize those feelings aren’t meant to bring you down but rather raise you up, you can make huge improvements to your work.
Sharpening your data visualization skills can be tough, but the aforementioned points may give you a necessary push in the right direction. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, there are always new skills and perspectives from which you can learn; that’s the most exciting part of fully embracing a growth mindset.
Data-based decisions are a crucial part of the world and have the power to influence your peers, the executives at your company, or even politicians. If you would like to make an impact on the world with your data visualizations, check out our Data Analytics Bootcamp and become a data analyst.