Have you ever stared at a massive sheet of data and tried to come up with quick, actionable insights? Or have you ever made a presentation using whole spreadsheets while you tried to tell the nugget of a story they contained? Data presented in rows can be difficult to understand and nearly impossible to derive insights from, let alone to act intelligently upon. To aid decision-making, companies must be able to mine, organize and present data in a visual narrative that the business units it serves can quickly internalize.
Graphical representation through tools like charts, graphs and maps, and data visualization help businesses convey the real story hidden in the noise of too much data. They are used to effectively communicate patterns, trends and outliers. It is storytelling with a visual framework, and it is essential to the decision-making process in business today.
The online Master of Science in Data Analytics program from Northwest Missouri State University can equip students to utilize these data visualization skills in the workforce.
Storytelling Through Visualization Provides Context and Insights
Throughout history, data storytelling through visualization has appealed to how the human brain best relates to information. The ability to harness this power for the broader workforce is what Brent Dykes, a data strategy consultant and author of an article titled “Effective Data Storytelling: How to Drive Change with Data, Narrative and Visuals,” calls “the last mile of analytics.” Like a good story, a strong visualization has a beginning, middle and conclusion. It synthesizes findings to a core set of visuals that provide context and meaning so that business users can leverage insights for intelligent decision-making.
There is a necessary balance between removing the noise to focus on critical insights and oversimplification. Visualization creators must be careful not to be so driven by an emerging conclusion that they inject bias; they must present the narrative in proper sequence with the necessary caveats and complexities for an authentic relating of the whole story.
Visually Presented Information Accelerates Understanding and Action
Making centralized dashboards with updated data accessible to business units drives focus and business performance. Consider these statistics:
- Brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than they do text
- Ninety percent of the information transmitted to the brain is visual
- The human brain can process an image in just 13 milliseconds
So how do these facts play out in business? The Wharton School of Business found that while a purely verbal presentation convinced only half of an audience, that number jumped to over two-thirds with visuals. The study also found that the use of data visualizations could shorten business meetings by 24%. In essence, the difference between verbally presented information and visually presented information is the difference between influencing and convincing your audience.
Skills You Need for a Career in Data Visualization
Compelling data visualizations convey a narrative’s who, what, when, where and how. The skill of doing this blends traditional analysis with creative storytelling.
Fluency in visualizations is developed through education to know which visualization tools to use for every purpose. For example, tables present rich detail but make it difficult to see high-level trends or patterns. Bar graphs and line charts show relationships between variables and help compare quantities but lack deeper detail for context. Scatterplots and bubble charts convey correlations, while pie charts show fractions of a whole.
Clarity is another key. Through practice, the creator of visual tools learns to present information in a way that is simple to digest. Considerations include whether it makes sense to present information in an alphabetic, numeric or sequential format. Left-to-right presentations make text easy to read, and numeric information is more digestible when presented in descending quantities (rather than randomized). In a line graph, too many variables represented will create confusion, but just two or three is ideal.
One of the courses in the NW Missouri State University Master of Science in Data Analytics online program that builds these skills is Data Visualization. It covers the design and development of exploratory diagrams and graphics for various data sets. It includes concepts such as chart and graph design, networks, topological graphs, display of multi-dimensional data, effective use of space and color, animations, interactive visualizations, mapping, cartography, web data acquisition and advanced visualization tools.
Data visualization is a core skill set developed throughout this program so that graduates can analyze data, take away the right insights and present them in ways that convince, rather than simply influence their audiences. That capability is a hallmark of effective leadership.