No reporting and analysis solution is complete without providing ways to visualize data and information. Charts and graphs as well as more advanced data visualization tools help users better understand their data and provide a fast, more meaningful view in context, especially when comparing data.
From a wide range of standard flat charts—including line, pie, bar, stacked bar, and so on—to more advanced data visualizations, three-dimensional and dynamic Flash charts or to features like heat maps, text clouds, and GIS maps, visualization features offer a way to present data and information in a tangible, impactful way.
The Benefits of Data Visualization Tools
Humans are visual animals. To “see” often means to “understand.” And in today’s fast-paced business environments, scanning through rows of data can be time-consuming and impractical. Many businesspeople want data visualization tools to see accurate, real-time business-critical information. They may need to start with the big picture and further explore the details as needed. Or, they may need to spot exceptions and identify emerging trends to take immediate, appropriate action.
Advanced data visualization tools show high-level summaries of important data. They present information in clearly defined spaces using shape, size and color to provide context and meaning to the user, who can identify trends in the data and get insights at a single glance.
Lastly, an advantage of using a data visualization platform to communicate a message is that it has great persuasive power. To show two figures on a data-table and to display these same figures side by side on a chart or graph is quite different in terms of impact.
Data Visualization Best Practices and Tips
Data visualizations are meant to present data in a way that makes the information easy to digest and understand at a glance. Since there are many different ways to visualize data, it’s important to to consider best practices when you are creating visualizations. The best practices below can be used to create your data visualizations in a way that is useful and clear to viewers.
Be selective about which types of data you want to visualize. Data visualization can be viewed as a visual form of analysis with the purpose of making critical items jump out at the user. If too much data is placed in visualization form, it may lose its impact and its usefulness. Stick with only the critical items.
Choose the appropriate data visualization for the types of data and/or information you want to display. For example, a pie chart is best used to show relative proportions between pieces of data. A line chart can track an item over time. A heat map is useful to show two column values of multiple rows of data. Compare different types of data visualizations and ask yourself which best communicates the information you intended to get across.
Leverage the power of the Web to place data visualization tools outside of the strict confines of your reporting interface, so your users are encouraged to dive deeper into key information. For instance, place relevant information displayed in charts and graphs in your company’s wiki or intranet, on blogs, CRM, etc.