The primary goal of data visualisation is to communicate information clearly and effectively through graphical means. Infographics are a good example of data visualisation, as they typically combine many different elements to represent different sets of data, in an easy to digest format.
Here are some key tips on how to visualise data clearly, without distorting the truth.
Choose the right type of graph to represent your data
All data is not equal, and different types of data are best visualised in different ways. For example, proportions are best compared using pie charts, totals are best displayed as histograms (bar charts), trends are best presented as line graphs, whilst multiple sets of similar data are best displayed in tables.
When deciding how you’re going to present data, consider that tables are good for showing large quantities of data, exact figures and multiple sets of numbers. Graphs, however, are better for showing rough trends and comparisons, but don’t necessarily lend themselves to showing large sets of detailed data.
Giving your graphs, tables and charts bold, easy to read titles, makes your data much easier separate and digest. Instead of using vague titles such as ‘Graph of UK Population’, use titles to explain what the data really represents; ‘Graph Showing Exponential Population Increase in the UK Over the Last 10 Years.’
Make data easy to read
Our eyes naturally find it easy to scan vertical and horizontal rows of tables, meaning horizontal or vertical lines (rules) aren’t always needed. In fact, rules can sometimes get in the way of scanning, so instead consider using tinted lines behind rows and columns in order to distinguish them.
In instances when column headings contain long words or sentences, try to run them on two or more lines, or if needs be, run them diagonally, or even abbreviate them. A good example of abbreviation working to good effect is in sports league tables, where the abbreviations ‘P W D L F etc.’ are instantly recognisable as ‘Played, Won, Drawn, Lost, Goals For etc.’
Keep scales consistent
When people read your charts, they will assume that the data is visually comparable throughout. If you change scales, it confuses the reader and could affect the desired impact of the data.
Keep things simple
When it comes to data visualisation, the simpler things are kept, the better. Keep the design clean and try to avoid using elaborate images to represent data. For example, if using images to compare two sets of data side by side, there’s little use in making one image bigger than the other, because our eyes can’t detect the exact difference in size.
Instead, use one image to represent one unit of value, and use multiple images of the same size to represent comparable sets of data. This method is commonly known as ‘Isotype’, named after the institute which pioneered it.
Done right, data visualisation can be a highly effective method of customer communications otherwise complex information. Done wrong and it can make already complex information even harder to understand. Follow the advice given here to ensure that your data is visualised clearly and efficiently.