Communicate Effectively with Data Visualizations

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communicate effectively

UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism

The immense power behind big data is acknowledged by most people. It has the potential to objectively unlock solutions to problems that were previously overlooked. We discussed an example of this in our previous blog entry about people analytics and big data’s effect on the HR department. However, the answers available in big data are never obvious. They require statistical analysis and algorithms to help make sense of the numbers. Wired Magazine addressed this issue in a recent article, The Importance of Making Big Data Accessible to Non-Data Scientists. They argue that the basic ability to ask a question of big data in normal language and get an understandable answer “would not undermine the value data scientists can deliver, but instead broaden the user base for data analytics and accelerate informed decision making in ways not previously possible.” That’s because the true value of big data comes from the analysis and interpretation of the numbers. If you can’t analyze the numbers to gain insight, they become meaningless.

Since the interpretation of big data is not easily accessible to non-data scientists, you need a way to communicate the value and analysis of the numbers to people who don’t have experience with data interpretation. This is where data visualization comes in. Data visualization helps to quickly and clearly tell the story that the numbers represent. According to the Harvard Business Review, infographics, pie charts, and graphs should serve the purpose of communicating an idea that drives action. They outline three specific criteria that all visualizations should follow. Data visualizations must:

  1. Be tailored for the audience
  2. Set up a clear framework to ensure everyone is on a common ground when interpreting the numbers
  3. Tell a story

The fact that data visualization must tell a story makes it a form of quantified communication. You are taking something quantified and communicating it in a visual, easy to understand form that allows your audience to remember your main points and reiterate those points to others later on. Although data interpretation is what brings valuable insight out of the numbers, it is data visualization that allows you to communicate that insight to others, and consequently move them to action. When done correctly, data visualization should use the rational evidence of your presentation to make an emotional connection with your audience.