8 Rules for Data Visualization
In this age of data deluge in business, it might be obvious to think that data understanding and exploration has become a lot easier. You already have a lot of data to play around with, but how do you extract insights from them without burdening your schedule?
Human minds are not programmed to be at ease with multiple numbers and on-the-fly mental calculations. Complex presentation and information retention go hand in hand.It is easier to compare 2-3 products simultaneously than 10. However, we respond to what pleases our senses – such as great food, music and of course, soothing colors. The point is, simplicity in presentation is key.
I have extensively used Tableau to visualize data and to derive insights for clients. While it is an exceptional piece of software, it can only go as far as your mind goes. Over the past years I’ve made my own experiences what works and what doesn’t. I hope my following 8 rules of effective data visualization will help you to visualize your data better and to tell powerful stories from your insights. Here they are :
1. Use colors wisely !
Bright colors don’t work. They are the easiest to shutt off minds. Use lighter shades, and any color will do the trick, yes, even red. Copy colors if you like them. When you find a great color online, download and open the image using Paint, use eyedropper to find the RGB values to create your own pallets.
2. Minimize white spaces !
In multiple projects, I have felt that this is important when you are showing multiple visualizations in a dashboard or presentation. Minimize the white spaces and use lighter shades of gray to give a tiled look.
3. Decide on Shapes !
When showing more than five categories, I prefer a stacked chart to a pie chart, especially when the distribution is skewed towards 2-3 categories. It helps get a quick glance at the major categories, takes a lot less space and often fits in symmetrically. Use treemaps or bubble charts wherever possible.
4. Use ‘clean’ fonts !
Even though Google Fonts library provides the best fonts for presentation and labeling, you might not be able to use them if your tool doesn’t allow it. In such cases, use Century Gothic or Ebrima to give your charts a clean look. My favorite Google fonts are Roboto, Lato and Open Sans.
5. Gridlines are important !
Visualizing information using linecharts can be pretty confusing unless you can get the information via a tooltip or a reference axis. If you don’t have a tooltip activated, use gridlines to make reading easier.
6. Allow multiple screen compatibility !
People own 2-3 screens nowadays. Make your visualizations easy to read across platforms, w.r.t. colors, fonts and boundaries. Extremely important when developing a business intelligence (BI) platform for visual analysis.
7. Arrange your charts !
Human eyes move mostly in F- or Z-form when reading charts or accessing information online. Use this knowledge to arrange your chart layout so that they tell a story when combined together.
8. Tell a story !
This is the most important rule of all. If you can’t use a chart to tell a story, junk it. Combine charts to tell your story. People get engaged with your visuals when they see a story.