Pie charts for example are a common format for displaying information, but they are controversial in the world of visualization. It is extremely difficult to compare one pie chart to another yet they are used in that way all the time. Use them, but use them appropriately, and only to show a relatively small series of data.
Become familiar with the wide range of visual tools at your disposal and then choose them wisely based on the overall desired outcome.
Using color and perception
The use of color and perception is very important in visualization and many organizations misuse it. Using color well can enhance and clarify a chart so that the users can get the highlights of the data. Color used poorly will confuse the user and obscure the data. For example, you can use color to highlight positives or negatives or show how the data changes over time or with different variables.
However, remember when using colors that analysis should always come first. Many companies fall into the trap of using their brand colors in visualizations but these are often not the best option. Businesses should consider what messages and insights the coloring is trying to convey and make an appropriate choice based on this rather than what the branding department has to say.
Finally color blindness is a consideration; don't rule these people out as users. You shouldn't use color alone to transmit meaning if at all possible. Use shapes or use appropriate colors that most everyone can see.
Choose your data sets carefully
Great visualizations start with great data and will only be as useful as the quality of the data it represents. Sometimes when teams receive unexpected results from their visualizations they can't understand why and their BI tools can end up taking the blame. However, this shouldn't be the case.
Instead, visualization tools should be used to help spot these issues early so they can be corrected in time to not affect the entire project. This can often be helped from an end-user perspective by being able to identify the difference between an unexpected discovery and a data issue.
Just try it
And finally, just try it. Let your users interact with the visuals where there is a pressing need for it, perhaps in a department with geographic requirements.
Overall, data visualization has the capacity to really turn around the way your organization is using — and benefitting from — its data, but only if it's being used in the most effective way possible. Napoleon is right — a picture is worth a thousand words — but only if that picture is displayed to help you understand a situation and act accordingly.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.