We’ve created many data visualizations with many different partners, so we know first-hand what makes these projects succeed and what turns them into a total disaster. To make sure you get the best work from your data visualization agency, we’ve put together a few insider tips on how to communicate and collaborate the right way.

8 Tips to Do Great Work with a Data Visualization Agency

It’s not easy to find the right data visualization agency for your project. (If you’re still on the hunt, check out our tips for how to vet them.) And once you find the right partner, the work doesn’t end there. You don’t want a gun for hire; you want a collaborative partner who will help bring your data to life. But working together means you each have a responsibility to do your part. To get the best work from your data visualization agency—and the best project possible—here are a few tips to make the process a little smoother.

1) Communicate a Clear Goal

Your data visualization agency is made up of expert designers and data storytellers who are adept at creating visualizations to communicate a specific purpose. They need to know not only what the goal is for this particular project but how it plays into your larger communication goals. Is it meant to engage people on social? Will it be used at a tradeshow? This info will influence their decisions at every stage, from the language they use to the format they use to present the data. Start off on the right foot with a detailed creative brief to clue them in. Here’s how to write one if you haven’t done it before.

2) Don’t Just Dump Your Data on Them

It’s exciting to have a partner who can dive into your data, but that doesn’t mean they’re your personal assistant. Far too often a client will get so excited they’ll send over every single piece of data they have, giving us a veritable ocean of data to wade through. This wastes precious time for the data visualization agency and, ultimately, your organization—the longer they take, the longer you wait. When you deliver data, it should be:

  • Decently organized: Make it easier for your data visualization agency to “see” what they’re looking at.
  • Complete: We can’t tell you how inconvenient it is to go back and forth in search of a few missing numbers. Clean and sort your data to avoid this.
  • A reasonable amount: Sometimes people come to us with three stats and ask us to turn it into a data story. Other times, as we mentioned, it’s an insane database of randomness. Provide a solid data set that gives your data visualization agency enough to work with.

3) Let Them Extract the Most Meaningful Insights

You may already have a story in mind—and you may have the data to support it—but there may be a more interesting angle in that data. (Sidenote: We hate to see people try to retrofit data just because they have a “great” idea. Not only does this result in a weaker story but you risk misrepresenting data, which can hurt your credibility.) You should have filled your data visualization agency in on the project’s goal, so let them help extract the most valuable insights to achieve that goal.

4) Know Your Terms

There’s a reason you’re using a data visualization agency, and it’s likely because you are not a data scientist or designer yourself. That’s OK, and you’re doing the right thing. But when it comes to collaborating on a data project, it’s important to know the basic lingo. This helps clear up miscommunication and ensures you’ll all stay on the same page. If you need a little help:

  • Check out our guide to the most common charts and graphs: It’ll help you learn the difference between a pie chart and a donut chart so you don’t have to call it “that circle thing.”
  • Learn about different visualization formats: Here’s a great rundown of the differences between data visualization, infographics, animated infographics, interactive infographics, motion graphics, and video.

5) Collaborate on the Story

Once the most interesting insights are uncovered, it’s vital to shape a narrative that will communicate them with the most impact. This is a highly collaborative process. You know who you’re trying to reach—how they think, what problems they face, the language they use—so you should help guide your data visualization agency. We believe the best story wins, no matter who it came from.

6) Share Brand Guidelines

We can’t tell you how frustrating it is for a data visualization agency to put their heart and soul into a beautiful visualization only to be told—after the fact—that it doesn’t align with brand style. Make sure you share this information from the start. Conversely, if your brand guidelines don’t include directions for data visualization, this is the perfect opportunity to create some rules.

7) Identify Your Editors

Careless mistakes are the quickest way to ruin your data visualization’s integrity. Sometimes it’s a transposed number. Sometimes an entire chart is missing. With so much back and forth, these things can fall through the cracks. Make sure you have designated “editors” on both teams that will be accountable for reviewing and ensuring accuracy. (Note: This doesn’t have to be a proper “editor.” It may be a project manager or producer.)

8) Be a Good Creative Partner

There are many moving parts in a data project, and issues can come up at every stage. To help keep everything running smoothly, follow general rules to be a good collaborater:

  • Designate a point person: This should be the contact to interface with your data visualization agency whenever they have a question or problem to solve.
  • Get sign-off at every stage: Make sure all stakeholders have reviewed and approved content at each stage, from copy to design.
  • Be responsive: Be respectful of your partner’s time. Don’t leave them hanging on questions or delay sending over important documents.
  • Offer constructive feedback: Consolidate your feedback from stakeholders, and frame it in terms of what works and what doesn’t, instead of what you did and didn’t like.

Follow these tips, and we guarantee your project will be a lot smoother. The only argument you’ll have is about where to get a beer together after your awesome project goes live.