There are two quotes that really resonate with visualizing and presenting data. The first was popularized by Mark Twain, who was quoting British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. It states,
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.
The second is an Eric Clapton tune:
It's in the Way That You Use It.
We bring them up at JoyLab because 1) they’re fun, and we love fun and 2) they’re great metaphors for data visualization.
I relate the first quote to making an argument. Statistics, on their own, are horribly dry. If you were looking to attract millennials to your product line, for example, and all we did was tell you that 36.2% of millennials prefer the color blue, 28.3% thought the sky was green, and 9.08% were considering a life shift because their chakra was off, you’d fall asleep (for the record, we made up all of those figures). In fact, I bet, you glossed over that last sentence because it was so boring.
When we make recommendations at JoyLab, we know that we need to not only back them up with data, but that we need to do it well. We can spew numbers, but without the proper context and logic, they almost always fall flat. In short, without proper context and presentation, a statistic is about as useful to you as a lie.
This leads us to the second quote,
It's in the Way That You Use It.
There’s a very clear reason why we would NEVER give or present a .csv file to a client. Going back to the last point, it’s boring. But, more importantly, it’s because raw data doesn’t really accomplish anything on its own. However, well-executed visualization brings life to the numbers and makes your points relevant. Here are a few tricks and tips we use visualize appealing stories:
Pick the right chart and graph.
Bad visualization can ruin really great data, which can be easily avoided by knowing what graph or chart to use. Hubspot published this blog, which gives a simple rundown on where and how to use different charts and graphs. Knowing which tool to use, be it a pie chart, a line graph, or a bar chart, is the first step to any good visualization.
Know your visualization tools.
Tableau: Tableau is a data and analytics software that can make stunning visualizations. Yes, it costs money, but if you’re in the business of presenting data, its features are well worth it. From heat maps to layered line graphs, Tableau impressively brings data to life.
Excel: There’s a clear reason why Excel is used so frequently: it’s good software! You can manipulate data easily and present it cleanly. It doesn’t have the design eye of the other two, but it works. Here’s a blog written by Microsoft on helpful Excel visualization tips.
ALL THE OTHERS: Creative Bloq put together this blog of 38 visualization tools. We have used several, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more out there. Know the landscape to learn which tool best fits your needs.
Rely on your story, not your visualization.
This is the crux of “It's in the Way That You Use It.” Remember, data presentation is not the foundation of a report. The STORY the data tells is the foundation. You are using visualization as a tool to tell that story. Great stories underpin good projects, great visualization turns a good project into a great one.