Don’t get lost in translation

Don't worry, we're not here to solve that particular conundrum, instead let's embrace the sentiment in our data philosophy and apply it to our communication. After all the best insight in the world isn’t worth anything if no one can understand it.

Today data analytics is in the spotlight, demand for data driven insight has grown exponentially, and with that comes a whole new host of hungry customers with varying needs, understanding, and learning styles. There will always be purists who love to get their teeth into a complicated data set, however not everyone has the time or inclination to delve into the detail. Not surprisingly demand for data analysts that are also talented data communicators and design experts has also exploded!

Once a buzzword “data visualisation” is a phrase that now commonly occurs in our team meetings and day-to-day conversations here in the Essex data world! We recently had the pleasure of hearing from ONS’ Jane Crowe and statistician Sir Ian Diamond on the subject, as we took some time out together with our Essex data network to focus on our visualisation skills and explore examples of national best practice. You can watch a recording of our visualisation session here.

So, you want to become a data viz expert…

If your job entails presenting findings from a set of data or analysis in such a way that it’s easy for your customer to understand and therefore take appropriate action, then you’re already a data visualist!

That means you’re already:

  • Using visual representation of numbers and patterns
  • Making data digestible to increase the likelihood of generating action
  • Communicating technical information in a non-technical way
  • Presenting complex information simply
  • Producing tables, graphs, and charts to explain your findings
  • Communicating to engage audiences

So, if we’re doing it already, why is there increasing emphasis on visualisation? Because as data volumes increase, and customer demands for insight grow, we’re further challenged to break through all the new noise around data and find the most effective way to tell a story that makes an impression and inspires action!

  • Who is your audience and what is the question you’re trying to answer for them? Think about their needs and interests.
  • What’s the purpose of the insight? How will your audience use the data/ insight – consider this to determine how best to present the information to them.
  • Prioritise the message you’re trying to display. Remember less can sometimes be more, and you may need to declutter the available data to deliver your message with more impact.
  • Consider the best visual to communicate your message in the simplest way. Bar chart, line chart, map, heat map, scatter plot, the list is endless! Make sure it fits your message.
  • Think beyond default formats! Templates may be a good place to start but one size does not fit all.
  • Make everything count! Pay attention to details like size, colour, graphics, and fonts to direct the attention of your audience to the most important pieces of the information.
  • Apply best practice in accessibility.
  • Don’t forget the narrative! Provide context and include some short narratives to highlight the key insights.
  • Invest in interactivity to increase the effectiveness of your message, not just for the gimmick-factor.

A top take-away from ONS is to just try something!

Data visualisation is an iterative process, try something, show it, share it, test it with colleagues and additional feedback will help you to refine what you have.

The visuals you use in your data exploration to find your message may not be the same ones you use to communicate it to your customer.

Of course, we can’t talk about data visualisation without mentioning dashboards! You’ll all be aware of the rise of the dashboard, sounds like the next Marvel movie, (any script writers out there, give me a call). You’ll already be familiar with the plot; complete an epic challenge to create live metrics for your customer that will save the planet from obliteration. And then there's the sequel because once you’ve done one, everyone wants one #herocomplex!

Yes, dashboards are great, they provide data in real time and are engaging for those that want to interact with their data, but they’re not always the answer and can create a lot of work. We’ll try and answer the how to eat the dashboard elephant conundrum in our next blog with some tips on how to create a dashboard in a day!



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