Data doesn’t lie. Or does it?

While the facts are the facts, data can be manipulated and presented visually in a way that confuses or misleads an audience.

But when used properly, data visualization is a powerful tool. It can convey the story behind the numbers with an immediacy that’s missing from conventional tables and columns. Well-designed data visualizations can quickly highlight data discrepancies that might otherwise be lost in a sea of numbers.

Effective data visualization requires more than just popping some numbers into a pie chart. Consider the following points to ensure you present a clear and cogent picture with your data.

Assess the Information, Then Choose the Right Data Visualization

Using the wrong data visualization format to present your data can lead to confusion.  While the aforementioned pie chart can be useful for illustrating a simple share of total data—the percentage of people polled who said they planned to purchase an iPhone in the next six months, for instance—it’s not the best choice for comparing multiple data points. Column, bar, and line charts are better suited to data comparisons. Other types of charts work well for showing the relationships between data points, or for visualizing the ways that data points are distributed.

Scale your data visualization correctly. A chart with a y-axis that’s much longer than the x-axis (or vice versa) can distort the data being presented. For example, an exaggerated y-axis in a chart showing revenue trends can make it look like revenue losses in a given period were much steeper than they actually were.

Beware of including too much information in your data visualization. Too many data points can obscure the story that you’re trying to tell.

Design with Your Audience in Mind

Good design makes it easy for your audience to understand your data visualization. Bad design can make the data difficult to comprehend or distract from the point you’re trying to convey. Simple design is usually best. Infographics, while trendy, rarely assist in comprehension and can often skew the data. Here’s an example from Business Insider’s “27 Worst Charts of All Time”:

Gizmodo was trying to show that the new iPad’s battery has 70 percent more juice than the battery in the previous iPad. But because the graphic shows a battery that gained width as well as height, it seems as though the battery’s capacity increased exponentially.

Other points to keep in mind:

  • A well-designed data visualization needs only minimal text. The design itself should be clear enough to explain the data.
  • Stay away from busy patterns or bright colors, which can make your data visualization difficult to read. And avoid 3-D charts. It’s too easy to distort perspective that way.
  • Color blindness affects nearly 8 percent of men and 0.5 percent of women, so use an appropriate color palette. Don’t use red and green bars to compare values in a bar chart—that would make the data visualization incomprehensible to anyone with red-green color blindness, the most prevalent form.

Resources for Data Visualizations Done Right

A Slideshare presentation by Jen Underwood, a senior program manager of business intelligence and analytics at Microsoft, contains a wealth of valuable information.

For assistance in choosing the right data visualization for the information you want convey, check out the helpful flowchart from Dr. Andrew Abela of The Extreme Presentation Method.

To learn what not to do with your data visualization, peruse the examples of data visualizations gone wrong, as compiled by WTF Visualizations.

And for examples of clear, well-designed data visualizations created with the iCharts platform, take a look at our knowledge center. We particularly like this data visualization of U.S. jobs health from Dun & Bradstreet. It’s clean, it’s simple, and it gets the point across clearly:


Explore the Dun & Bradstreet U.S. Jobs Health Report


Create Your Own Intuitive and Engaging Data Visualizations

The iCharts data visualization platform helps you turn data into actionable, shareable business insights.

Want to visualize your own business data right within your SaaS enterprise business platform, such as NetSuite or Salesforce? Take a tour of the iCharts product family.