5 ways to make the most powerful data visualizations possible

I am on a mission – a mission to simplify data visualizations and present a strategy that my team and yours can use together to visualize the most important performance indicators of your business. Thus, you’ll be able to bring your simplified and polished analytical efforts to your senior leadership with confidence.

I will outline a few tips in detail that I’ve discovered when creating data visualizations that should help strategize important KPIs into your dashboards.

(1) Understand the story

Priority number one for projects related to data visualizations is understanding the business and the data elements. Do the research to support your engagement with the data. I personally want to get to know the data, instead of creating bland visuals that tell a bunch of insignificant stories – my goal is to create an action based on the results I’m presenting.

Here’s an example of a dashboard in which the understanding of business lacked.

 Data visualizations

What is your experience when you view this slide?

Personally, I see inconsistent color schemes, repeated measures that don’t really offer anything of value, stuffed bar charts, names and topics that aren’t fully presented, etc.

Look at your data. How much power do you have at your fingertips? Data visualization is a powerful tool to help communicate complex information to your audience, but our brains can only synthesize so much at one time. If data isn’t properly visualized, it can do more harm than good.  Good data visualization relies on good design – understand your navigation goals, make things intuitive and flowing, and remedy any clutter (more on this later).

(2) Keep it simple

Keep your data visualization simple. There is no need to get overly complex when trying to tell your business story. So don’t try and do too many things in one chart or one graph. The last thing you want to do is to overcomplicate these visuals and leave your audience confused and upset that their investment isn’t worth the money they spent on it and it goes directly to the auto-delete folder.

After researching, understanding, and simplifying my goals…

Here is the after:

Data visualizations 2

What is your experience when you view this slide?

I see a clean interface. I see smaller tiles that support larger tiles. I see a table, which effectively lays out the data I’m looking at.

(3) Answer the right questions

You want to frame the opportunity for action. It’s not about pummeling your audience with data, it’s about creating something worth keeping. Never forget how powerful it is to have a full picture of your business, on one page, that can be printed and shared with members of the team.

Here are some great questions to start with that will help you find actionable data:

  • Who are my top performers?
  • Where are they currently being billed at?
  • Who are my lowest performers?
  • Where do I have time to allocate based on current matters?
  • Do I need to shift time keeper priorities based on who is not billed?
  • Where do I need resources and where do I have too many resources?
  • How much time do I have left to bill on a specific matter, how much money is that time worth, and how much are my time keepers billable?

(4) Don’t confuse people with clutter

We want to tell a story, not confuse people with too many bar charts, time slices, or odd color choices. We want to limit the amount of data shown at a given time so that we can tell a story when presenting. Not only do you control the story, but you control the pace of the story. The pace in which your audience consumes information can be your best ally or your biggest foe.

This process is a means to establish personal value. You must provide rich context to tell a story. Define your relatable table elements. Do your slicing and dicing beforehand and break your story into many pieces. Essentially, defragment your data. “Data is a means to an end. It is not the end itself.”

Don’t feel like you can’t remove a visualization when it stops working for you. Look over all your visualizations and ask yourself the question: “What can I remove to enhance simplicity and effectiveness?” If you ask yourself this question and have a meaningful answer, you may find yourself killing lots of visuals from your dashboard or story. However, if you find yourself struggling to simplify, you should slow down, step back, reconsider your goal, and re-approach. You might surprise yourself.

(5) Make smarter choices

One of the goals here should be to make smarter decisions when you’re developing these dashboards. The goal is ultimately to create purposeful wins with the data you have. So what questions does your data answer? We can always do a test on what we produce, go through each visualization just as in the declutter step, and ask “So what?” Can you live without knowing this piece of information? If you think you cannot, then how do you answer this question? “So what?” This test can be run on any and all of your tiles and data, leading to a model dashboard that supports your audience in an unselfish and creative way.




By | 2017-11-30T22:44:43+00:00 March 15th, 2017|Business Intelligence|4 Comments

About the Author:

Anthony is a Senior BI Consultant working out of Chicago. He has six years of experience in Business Intelligence (BI) with a focus on Power BI, Internet of Things (IoT), and Big Data. He possesses strong data warehousing and SQL skills, including SSIS and SSRS. He also has programming experience with power shell, C# and asp.net.


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