It’s no secret that data is used every day to inform decisions. From tasks such as evaluating a performance report at work to comparing product prices online at home, leveraging data allows us to become more informed and effective decision makers. However, what many may not realize is that data can be strategically crafted to tell a story and drive a specific action. Surprisingly, this happens quite frequently in our day-to-day lives.

Think about the ways you consume information on a regular basis. Weather, news, navigation, and fitness tracking are just four examples of data sources for which we use tools to quickly identify and highlight actionable information. To be effective, they must present data in a way that is clean and gives us key information efficiently without overwhelming us with irrelevant details.

 

Examples of data visualization in four popular smartphone apps. From left to right: Weather App, Stocks App, Google Maps, and Fitness Tracker.

 

Similarly, there are steps we can follow to keep our data simple, focused, appropriate for and meaningful when communicating with others.

There are four communication elements that are critical to consider when choosing how to visualize your data.

 

#1 Consider Your Audience

During initial planning, ask yourself what your audience really cares about:

  • Is this a client who has established key performance indicators?
  • What is their role at their company and what is important to them?
  • Does this data provide them with insights that help them make a more efficient, accurate, or impactful decision?

 

Two bar graphs showing the difference in landing page performance based on four key metrics

 

#2 Select Your Visual Strategically

Although there are exceptions, certain charts tend to be more suited for certain stories than others. Typically, these formats work best in the following circumstances:

  • Bar charts are great tools to demonstrate comparison. Use stacked bars when talking about the whole and grouped bars when talking about the parts.
  • When showcasing trends, use bar or line graphs.
    • A good rule of thumb in choosing bar versus line is if your data is describing something tangible, such as the number of leads acquired over the last quarter, use bar.
    • If it is describing a calculation, such as Cost Per Acquisition over the last quarter, use a line.

Example of a stacked bar graph with a trend line overlay showing two different types of leads and the cost per lead.

  • Use scatterplots or heatmaps to present relationships. Trendlines are helpful in showing the correlation between two variables.

Heat-map showing which days of a month had the most leads

  • When looking at the composition or makeup of a data set, use funnel, area or tree map charts. Pie charts can also be used to show composition, but use them with caution, as their shape can often misrepresent data.

Treemap showing different sources of total revenue

 

#3 Keep It Simple

You want the recipient of the information to understand what you are trying to communicate quickly.

If the story you are trying to tell is robust or has various metrics you find important, try breaking data down into pieces. If doing so interferes with the story you’re trying to tell, such as in a presentation, consider developing a handout with more details outside of the visual you want to serve as your focal point.

Simple open pie chart showing the amount of money spent compared to the total budget.

 

#4 Highlight the Story

Remember, you are trying to tell a story to ultimately drive a decision when presenting data. Use tactics such as sorting information, featuring a focal point, and strategically using color to draw the eye to your message. Consider hiding or deemphasizing less relevant information when appropriate.

map of the United States showing which geographic areas the most leads came from in one year.

 

At Response Mine, we understand that data is a powerful tool that can greatly affect how businesses make important decisions. By leveraging data visualization platforms, we are able to consolidate and customize data in a way that creates meaningful insights for our clients, in real time.

If you’re interested in better understanding your company’s data and what story it’s telling you, check out our innovative data visualization and analytics platforms or get in touch with a member of our expert analytics team today.

 

 

 

Emma Pile is an Account Manager at Response Mine. As a liaison between the agency and their lead generation and e-commerce clients, she is constantly looking for meaningful ways to share data as unique as each client. She is also an avid traveler and on her way to becoming a certified scuba diver!

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