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Data Visualisation: A Story by Numbers

Profile image for Laura Cannings

In a world that is dominated by the transaction of data it is important to understand how best to communicate the story behind the numbers...

 

What is data visualisation?

Data visualisation is a commonly used buzz word by many marketers, but what does it actually mean? Well to put it simply it's the visualisation of data, but more importantly it is not just numbers but a collection of information that is in a graphical or pictorial format. Displaying this analysis of information in such a format enables people to spot patterns and understand difficult concepts that would potentially take a lot longer to digest.

There is actually a biological reason for the success of data visualisation. Our visual system is designed for visual analysis, loads of data goes into our brains through our eyes and then gets rapidly processed doing lots of different tasks. One of those tasks being pattern matching, a key aspect of data analysis.

 

What is the difference between data visualisation and infographics?

Some people might rightly question what the difference is between infographics and data visualisations. Well In my opinion there isn’t any difference. Infographic is very quickly becoming a term that is looked down upon in the marketing industry for being a frivolous piece of pretty content that doesn’t really say much but get’s shared socially. Too many infographics were produced as a quick marketing win without much thought or meaning and the internet is now flooded with them. Data visualisation however is the posh, more sophisticated label to creating graphical stories. Whatever the label, the visuals need to be well thought through and have a real purpose.

 

How does data visualisation solve problems?

Problem solving with data comes from the analysis undertaken with the information provided. A beautiful example of how data visualisation changed the minds of many actually happened years ago in the 19th century when there was a cholera outbreak in the heart of London. A person named John Snow had an argument to prove, he wanted to locate the source of the cholera outbreak and help save the lives of thousands thus becoming a hero. He took this data and applied it graphically to a map pinpointing all the areas where deaths occurred. Voila the problem was solved,  a logical pattern was shown making the water pump in broad street the route of the problem. Without this form of visualisation the pattern would of taken longer to find and been harder to prove. Data visualisation rocked even in the 19th century… Well done John Snow!

 

Jon Snow data visualisation

Robin's Blog

What are the benefits of data visualisation?

There are 3 key benefits of data visualisation but what are they? Moving from one John Snow to another, imagine understanding the pitfalls of the King of The North in the Game of Thrones, needing to know who is related to who, what kingdom is ruled by who, who has slept with who? For this John Snow it’s a matter of life or death!

 

Benefit 1: Credibility

Credibility is a key benefit from data visualisation, it reinforces trust through a level of research undertaken.

For us to understand the world of Game of Thrones means a lot of research. Instead of a spreadsheet of names and the different houses and connections etc…  there are better ways to get this level of information across quickly and visually.

A great example of this is the Game of Thrones character relationship map, which uses illustration with colour and size to emphasise the power and relationships within the series. There is a basic interaction on this example allowing further information to be revealed on click, giving more scope for depth within the content:

 

Benefit 2: Impact

Impact on your audience is important. If you design your information well the message can be instant and it doesn’t have to over complicated. Sometimes the numbers just don’t tell the story well enough, letting your audience really see the data can leave a lasting impact and increase retention. 

This example of simplicity presents size in a graphical format for greater understanding, and far easier realation to scale using a set of examples. Everyone knows the WALL is supposed to be huge and a stat of 200m sounds big…. But until you see it against other landmarks in a more visual way you might not really compute that information.

 

Game of Thrones Size Guide

 

Benefit 3: Engagement

And lastly engagement is a key benefit. And there is a lot of data to try and create engagement within the game of thrones.  Clean and inventive use of data visuals can encourage people to explore a little deeper into the facts and to make more of a personal connection with the information. This level of engagement makes your content a success in terms of delivering a message. At least with these types of visuals John Snow would know who to avoid in the bedroom department!

When to use data visualisation:

From one battle in one kingdom to another kind of battle – that of the boardroom! It is important to know when to use your data to back up your argument in order to win over a tough audience. Imagine facing Alan Sugar,  a daunting experience no doubt, and often the words spoken by the keen apprentices just aren’t enough to persuade the man himself. If you were in that boardroom and needed to communicate with precision and clarity, data visuals would help…

Answer questions fired at you… Think about those sticky moments when you might have to answer to your board about the amount of visitors you have to your website…. Analytics are your friend… graphs and pie charts answer any question for you.

Discover new insights… Through data you can discover hidden gems, find that diamond that you might of overlooked had the stats not been staring you in the face. Imagine if someone had written a great piece of content and the traffic to your website had shot up, and no one knew why… looking at the data can quickly and easily gives you those insights. The simpler the visual the easier the insight is to spot. This is why google analytics is so popular, you can quickly see a story be it successful or not and make changes accordingly.

Win arguments... Most importantly this data can help you win an argument quickly. If the research has been done, and the visuals are clear then it really is hard to argue with.

 

How do you find the story in your data?

Identifying the question you want to answer is the first step on your data quest. You may have a specific question or you may want to investigate different avenues but having a starting point is key.  Once you have your question you need to find out the type of data needed to answer it. Getting that data, and making sure it’s credible however is the tricky part… This is where research wins out – make it thorough to make it credible.

 

If you are struggling to see immediate data sets then follow these 3 suggestions to make your story come to life.

  1. Finding trends
  2. Seeing correlations
  3. Spotting those outliers

 

How do you visualise the data and craft the perfect story?

Once you have your data its important to understand how best to visualise it and there are some common methods you can use:

 

Bar charts are great to show change over time or compare different categories.

Pie charts are best with small data sets but they really only work best with familiar percentages such as 25% 50% etc… so the user doesn’t have to work too hard to understand the meaning of the data. Pie charts are good for representing part of a whole.

Heat maps use colour to show relationships between data sets that when presented numerically wouldn’t have as much impact. These are often used on geographical areas.

Line charts are best to track changes over periods of change. The changes should need to be significant enough to have an impact of the shape of the line in order to communicate the story behind the data.

Bubble charts are brilliant to show ranking relationships. They communicate count, frequency or proportion of a variable with the size of the bubble reflecting the quantity. These are good for quick comparisons of data rather than a very accurate reflection.

Area charts are good to show change over time. They differ from line charts as they can also visually represent volume.

Scatter plots are very much like line charts as they use the x and y axes to plot data but they show how much one variable is affected by another.

 

What about bringing emotion to data?

There is no reason that data should be seen as just a set of cold statistics. It is much easier to collate information that is emotion based in a world where all of our emotions are thrown out across numerous social media channels. As long as the collection of those emotions happens they can be analysed and then presented in a story to your audience. There are many tools that analyse emotions and Nuvi is one that us at Adido have investigated. Nuvi allows you to see sentiment in a snap shot and our Attention summit was a live demonstration of this. You can see positive and negative as well as neutral comments that have been stated in a quick visual bubble chart. For the Attention summit it was easy to spot the success of the conference through the positivity spread socially. Having personal information to analyse means you can really connect with your audience and get a better understanding of them, making any contact more meaningful all round.

 

Nuvi Example

Nuvi

Top tips to remember:

Data visualisation can

 

Make sure to check out some more great examples of visualising data in the form of infographics.

 

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