Understanding raw data can be challenging. Data visualisation makes it easier by presenting the analysed data in an attractive, accessible way. Used properly it can quickly distil facts and complex concepts in the blink of an eye.
Here we take a look at exactly what data visualisation is, why it is becoming increasingly important and how businesses can make the most of it.
We’ve all heard, for better or worse, that Big Data is the future. Every year the amount of data created continues to rise and by the end of this year, the global annual rate of data production is predicted to reach 5.6 zettabytes (according to Cisco one zettabyte is equivalent to about 250 billion DVDs).
Yet on its own all that data is fairly useless – it needs to be gathered, organised and analysed before any meaningful conclusions can be drawn. Data visualisation allows this to happen and in turn makes Big Data an incredibly powerful tool.
Science vs Art
Data visualisation involves making data easy to understand yet also attractive to look at and as a result it’s considered both a science and an art. Put excel spreadsheets to the back of your minds, today’s data visualisations are far more sophisticated; infographics, heat maps and geographic maps are just a few popular ways to display information.
It’s also becoming increasingly common to add an interactive capability that allows users to engage with the data by manipulation, querying and drilling for more data.
Businesses can use data visualisation in two main ways: for their own insight and content marketing. Gathering audience insight is becoming increasingly important, no longer do you have an ad man telling consumers what they want, instead the balance of power has shifted to the customer.
Today’s buyer expects personalised, relevant offers via their preferred channels; anything less will be switched over, muted or closed. As a result, businesses are striving to learn more about their customer rather than pushing their product onto them.
Data visualisation allows marketers to quickly assimilate key customer data, no matter how vast. Even people with limited analytic skills can work out key insights, which allows them to target the customer with more precision.
According to the Content Marketing Institute 86% of B2B marketers report that their organizations are using content marketing and 70% of them are creating more content than they did one year ago. And it’s not without good reason, according to the same research: “82% of consumers feel more positive about a company after reading custom content and 60% of people are inspired to seek a product after reading content about it”. And as visuals are processed by humans much quicker than words, data visualisation makes a great content marketing offering.
Buy how can you make data become effective content marketing? Storytelling is a great way to give data meaning and make it memorable. To do this effectively you need to know your audience and understand what kind of a story would resonate with them.
Your data can be presented in a number of ways, but it is always worth bearing in mind context; your audience should be able to understand your data without having to read reams of accompanying text. The whole point of data visualisation is to simplify things. On that note, everybody has their own take on what constitutes good design, but where data is concerned simple is best so it should be as easy to digest as possible.
Feeling inspired? We’ve scoured the web for some of our favourite examples of data visualisations.
Using data gathered from ‘Daily Rituals’ by Mason Currey, this interactive chart shows how various artists, writers and musicians structured their days. It turns out great minds don’t think alike: Charles Darwin took a siesta, Picasso painted from midnight to the wee hours and John Milton meditated from 4am – 5am!
The Globe of Economic Complexity produced by the Centre for International Development at Harvard University attempts to capture the world economy in an easily understandable and interactive visual. The project has a wealth of data and attempts to depict world trade flows.
Google has put together a music timeline which shows when various genres of music were most popular. Each genre is represented by a stripe and users can click to split the genre into sub-genres.
CNN created an interactive bar graph that shows the ethnic diversity between age groups. There are several conclusions to be drawn, one of which is the millennial generation is both bigger and more diverse than boomers.
The Refugee Project is an interactive map which charts refugee migrations around the world since 1975 using UN data. Users can click on countries to see global flows of refugees in any given year.
The Internet Map attempts to visualise the internet. No easy task! The map shows the size of the website according to website traffic and the links between different websites. The closest description of the mathematical model used can be found here. The interesting thing here is the ability to test a website in relation to the wider map.
Interested? You can learn even more about data visualisation for free by singing up to the ‘Data Visualization’ module of The Data Mining Specialization course on Coursera.