How to use Data Visualization for Actionable Insights (A Guide)

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Staring at a load of numbers and facts all jumbled up in a presentation can come off as boring to read and complex to understand.

There’s also the popular idiom, “A picture is worth more than a thousand words, this is completely valid. 

With tons of data received by our brain to be processed daily, data visualization is indeed a powerful tool that organizations in any, and every industry can benefit massively from.

This is because Data visualization is not just a communication tool, but a research tool as well. A seamless combination of technical analytics and storytelling.

Let’s start from the basics, what exactly does the term “Data Visualization” mean?

To put it simply, data visualization is essentially taking boring data and making it look super cool and easy to understand through the use of visual imagery. It is like turning numbers and facts into colorful charts, graphs and pictures that tell a comprehensible story. 

In this article, we will be giving a thorough discourse on the power of data visualization, resulting in actionable insights. First let’s explore some types of visualizations.

Types of Data visualizations

There are various types of data visualizations. While some can be used for similar assignments, each serves a different purpose. Some are used for comparing categories, showing trends over time, displaying proportions, or explaining relationships between variables. 

Here are some common types of data visualizations:

Bar Charts: This is a type of visualization, where figures and data are represented using diagrams in the shape of rectangular bars whose length and height are proportional to the figures they represent.

Pie Charts: Who doesn’t love a slice of pie, or pizza? Imagine complex data being represented in the shape of your favorite pastry. That is exactly what a pie chart is. The size of each slice of pie is dependent on the figure they represent. The larger the figures, the larger the slice. 

Line Graphs: This type of graphical visualization, displays information as a series of data points connected by straight lines.  They are essentially used for projections, and to visualize the value of something over time. 

Scatter Plots: This is a type of visualization that uses dots to show the relationship between two variables. It is a diagram that helps us see if there’s any connection between the two things we are looking at. It is an effective way to spot patterns and analyze data.

Heats Maps: A heat map uses colors to show the intensity or magnitude of values within a graph. It helps us spot patterns and trends, as well as understand data in one glance. This is a super cool way to visualize data because people are naturally drawn to colors. 

Area Charts: In terms of the look and feel, area charts combine elements of bar charts and line graphs. However, there are shades of color below the lines to show how something changes over time. It is also a great way to help us spot trends, and compare different categories. 

Bubble Charts: This is a really aesthetically pleasing way of visually depicting data. Why? It uses circles to represent data points. These circles in their various sizes, give a semblance of bubbles. It helps us see relationships and patterns in complex data.You can use simple software tools such as Excel, Tableau or even Google Sheets to create a bubble chart. 

Sankey Diagrams: These are movement based diagrams. They are used to show the flow of something from one state or time, to another. It is ideal for representing elements like energy, money or resources. 

Tree Maps: Are you trying to create an organizational chart or a family tree?  Look no further than using a tree map. It is basically the use of nested rectangles, in a tree-structured diagram, to represent hierarchical data. In this chart, the hierarchy is represented by the placement and arrangement of the rectangles.

Radar Charts: This imagery uses circular shapes with multiple axes radiating from the center. Each axis represents a different variable, and the data points are plotted along these axes. It is a great way to compare variables and spot patterns in data. 

Tools and Techniques for Data Visualization

As a data scientist, tech officer or business analyst, data visualization is a skill that is a must have in your vocation. In order to build your professional skill set, you might need to consider taking some courses. 

These courses can help you kickstart a career in data analytics, or establish your already blossoming career. Either way, no knowledge is wasted. 

Some other tools you to create effective data visualizations include:

Microsoft Excel

This is perhaps one of the most popular tools for data visualization. Excel provides various types of charts like Column charts, Bar charts, Pie charts, Line Charts, Area charts and 

Tableau

Providing an easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface that converts data to understandable business insights, Tableau is one of the most powerful data visualization tools today.

Infographics

Infographics combine narratives and graphics in a way that is super easy to digest and understand. Elements such as icons, photos, narratives and illustrations can be found in infographics.

D3.js

This is a commonly used tool by data analyst professionals, used not only for creating charts and graphs, but for also carrying out other data tasks. Asides from its efficiency, it is also user friendly and thus, can be used as a great starting point for beginner analysts and scientists. 

Power Bi 

This is a common business intelligence tool, primarily used by business and data analysts. You can take power bi courses as an already established professional in the field. It is also great for people without any prior data knowledge. 

You don’t have to be solely in the data field to take data related courses. People looking to explore careers in graphic design, content strategy or social media strategy will also find that data visualization knowledge can come in handy more often than not. 

Benefits of Data Visualization

Data visualization has many benefits as it pertains to business and data analysis. These include: 

Easier Comprehension of Data

When data is communicated using visual images such as charts, graphs and other infographics, it helps communicate data in a clear and engaging way that is easy to understand. Instead of staring at a bunch of numbers and trying to unravel it, data visualization helps us see patterns, trends, and insights that might have been overlooked if we were just looking at a bunch of numbers. 

When our eyes are able to take a break and our brains absorb information in a more engaging and intuitive way, comprehension is made easier.

Easier and Faster Decision Making 

When data and facts are presented in a clear and easier to understand manner, decision makers are able to make faster decisions. This is because data visualization provides an avenue for us to quickly identify and process key information. When informed decisions are made, the company is able to grow exponentially. 

Enhances Communication

It is no secret that communication is a two-way street. However, presenting data in figures and elaborate words could make the communication one-sided, due to the inability to comprehend. Using visualization helps us communicate information more effectively and engage our audience. 

So, while you are in meetings, presenting findings to your colleagues or sharing insights with clients, data visualization helps to bridge the communication gap between you as the presenter and your audience by making the information easier to grasp.

Helps Spotting Trends and Patterns 

Are you looking to make sales projections, or projections for companies growth? Presenting data using visual imagery such as graphs, charts, diagrams or infographics, makes it easier to see what is going up, what is declining, what is currently in vogue and what is fading out. After gathering these insights, you have more information to enable you to stay at the top of your game. 

Stimulates Compelling Narratives

You can craft a visually compelling narrative using data visualization. Rather than present a series of boring numbers and facts, data visualization brings data to life, by capturing your attention and leaving a lasting impression.

Helps in Memory Retention

It can be a herculean task to keep up with the countless figures floating on your screen. As humans, we are visually inclined creatures, and as such, we are able to process and retain data more when it is in the form of a diagram, chart or graph. With data visualization, you are able to comprehend better, and consequently, you can be sure to always recall important insights that would have been otherwise forgotten. 

Conclusion

Data is universal. In every career, you interact with data on a daily basis. By presenting complex data in a visually appealing and engaging way, it results in you crafting riveting narratives, spotting trends and patterns, creating interactive experiences, and overall, making assured decisions. 

By making use of the  various data visualization techniques such as diagrams, charts, graphs and maps, you are able to see the bigger picture.

If you are looking to turn raw, complex data into meaningful and actionable information, data visualization is the ultimate key to making those clever, understandable presentations. 

Justin Chia

Justin is the founder and author of Justjooz. He is a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) alumni and a former data analyst.

Now, Justin runs the Justjooz blog full-time, hoping to share his deep knowledge of business, tech, web3, and analytics with others.

To unwind, Justin enjoys gaming and reading.

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