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Five tips for improved data visualization

Patrik Lundblad, Qlik Visualization Advocate | Dec. 5, 2014
Patrik Lundblad, Qlik Visualization Advocate, shares the top five tips organizations can follow to reap the full benefits of data visualization.

It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words and no saying remains truer in the world of business intelligence and data visualization. Used properly, visualizing rows of data via graphs and charts can be an effective method for extracting meaning and therefore critical business insights for companies. This is increasingly important as companies try and find ways to actually harness real meaning from their data and get effective insights on the best ways to improve the operations of their businesses.

The good news is that visualization technologies have improved to correspond with other data trends. Although charts have been used by companies for decades, simply throwing data into a chart isn't enough to get true business insights. Instead, organizations are making moves towards using more detailed, interactive charts that mean users can spot outliers, patterns, trends, and even correlations in complex data in a way they never could before. However, for an organization to truly experience the benefits of cutting-edge data visualization, we think there are five things they should focus on if they want to make sure that these platforms are delivering maximum impact for their business.

Be selective of what you're trying to achieve

Often the first mistake for data visualization teams is that they cast the net too wide. They want their graphics to represent too much information and, as a result, the visualization becomes too crowded. A good visualization represents a small number of measures — preferably no more than seven to nine, as that is all that users can cover at once.

Similarly, be specific with the number of KPIs you want represented in the dashboard — again, keep it to nine or less. After all, too many indicators are distracting. Keep the visualization simple. The less there is to interpret, the easier it is for the user to understand. If your visual looks cluttered, try a different format. The cleanest format is usually the best.

Another principle is to make sure the format of the information is appropriate for the use case and the user. Chart formats, for example, come in many types and are often preferred by business users. Edward Tufte, a leading academic, talks a lot about "chart junk" which is the complexity that people sometimes put onto a visualization that can obscure the meaning. So when you create charts, use as little ink or pixels as possible to maximize the data.

Choose an appropriate chart type for the data

Be aware of which type of chart you should use and which one will best display the data and also fit your audience who will be looking at it. We're all familiar with line charts, area charts and pie charts but sometimes certain visualizations are not appropriate. 


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