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Storytelling with Data: Data Visualization Best Practices (part 2)

January 13, 2016

This is the second part of a two-part series on data visualization best practices. If you missed the first five guidelines, you can find them here: Storytelling with Data: Data Visualization Best Practice (part 1).

If you’re interested in a hands on workshop that teaches how to implement these and more, you can sign up for a virtual or in-classroom comprehensive day of training to help you master data visualization best practices for high end-user adoption. Register for the TARGIT Visualization Wizard class.

data visualization best practices

6. Location, location, location

Always consider location of info gauges and other data visualization objects within a dashboard or analysis. Important gauges should always be strategically placed in areas of the screen that most easily allow users to focus on the most important information first before turning their attention to the other parts of the dashboard.

You can download TARGIT's gauge builder here.

There are an abundance of studies that focus on the areas of screen real estate that are more important than others when considering common reading direction and computer usage. A simplified version of these studies can be achieved by splitting the screen into four sections and giving each section an importance value, which can be seen in the below dashboard.

data visualization best practices

However, with every rule there is always an exception. In this case that’s the use of numbered headers to control the reading flow of the dashboard.

data visualization best practices

7. Always be consistent

Consistent structural design for all dashboards and analyses makes it easier for BI users to not quickly spot trends and deviations, but also decode new dashboards whenever they are introduced.  All three dashboards below come from the same company but show different data and represent different areas of the company. Notice how each dashboard at a glance has the same structure and design.

data visualization best practices

data visualization best practices

data visualization best practices

8. Know where you are

While drilling down into details in dashboards, it’s very important to know where you have been and more importantly, where you can go. That’s why a navigational map is an excellent visual tool for multi-layered dashboards. This is a simple but helpful map that informs the consumer which level and dashboard they are currently on and where they can go next.

Below are a few examples of navigational maps and their use and placement within dashboards.

data visualization best practices

data visualization best practices

data visualization best practices

9. Follow a path

Storytelling is an important element of any data visualization, and getting this right can be tricky. There is a very thin tipping point between success and failure. The goal of storytelling within business intelligence is to guide the consumer from a starting point to an end-point, enlightening along the way with relevant information within a specific context that gives a holistic view of the data.

Therefore, it’s necessary that the narration of your story is correctly implemented, drawing users’ attention to the right information in the correct order. A successful technique is to use linking objects in dashboards as a narrator, guiding from KPI to KPI in an order that makes most sense.

The example below shows an airport passenger flow dashboard and the paths used to provide the narrative. As you can see, it’s clear where each point of the story is and which one is to be viewed next. 

These narrative links also serve another purpose in addition to establishing sequencing. As you can see in the example, each link provides a one to three second gap between each point in the story. These gaps are very useful because they give your brain extra time to process the information before reaching the next point, increasing the chance of this information being remembered and recalled at a later date.

data visualization best practices

10. Get straight to the point

Most humans are very good at detecting patterns visually and using visuals to communicate quickly and efficiently. The old adage “a picture’s worth a thousand words” rings especially true for data visualization. It’s all about using the correct visual objects to quickly and efficiently communicate with the user. That is why using visual objects that are instantly recognizable have a greater impact and are more likely to be remembered, enabling users to make better, data-driven decisions.

Below are a few examples of recognizable objects paired with traditional business intelligence objects. In each case, it’s easy to see the benefit of using a recognizable object as opposed to a traditional chart or graph.

data visualization best practices

data visualization best practices

data visualization best practices

It’s my hope that you’ve found these 10 best practices inspirational. Don’t forget to register for the TARGIT Visualization Wizard course for a hands-on approach to learn how to implement these data visualization best practices and more.

You can also browse our virtual learning library for quick video tutorials that might interest you on data visualization and beyond.





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