The Importance of Data Visualizations

Feb 1, 2016
Joe Buhlig
~1 min

It’s easy to present data in a summarized table, but what about turning it into a data visualization?

What is it?

Data visualization is the display of data in a picture. Its purpose is to give a clear and easily understood visual of what the data is saying. Understanding the story in a data set by looking at spreadsheets and raw data isn’t something most people are accustomed to or good at, so we rely on a visualized format of the data, typically a graph or chart, to help us.

False Perceptions

It is critical to do this well or we risk giving the viewer an incorrect perception of the story behind the data. The display should show what is going on behind the scenes and the focus should be the data, not your interpretation of the data. Following conventional graphing methods will make it easier for your viewer to understand it. If you ignore these conventions, you risk building a bad bar chart and deceiving your audience. You can get away with this if you do it subtly, but you’re sacrificing your integrity in the process and it will eventually come around to bite you.

Interpretation

When the visualization is done right, it explains what is happening. It’s impossible to look through millions of data points and know how things turned out. We can do summaries of the data to help, but oftentimes the summaries are even too complicated. People are visual by nature so a picture helps us see what is going on and interpret the results more clearly.

Patterns and Outliers

When you take the time to pull together this picture, you might be surprised at the patterns that start to reveal themselves. There are times when you may not realize you have patterns in your data until you put it in picture form. There are also times when the visual helps you see something that stands out. Just like the unknown patterns, you may not be aware of an outstanding data point until you graph it.

Take the time to build a good display of data. You want it to tell an accurate story and paint a picture of what is really going on. And it may show you something you didn’t know before.