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Insightful, Compelling, and ActionOriented - Using Data Visualization to Drive Your Business

Bob Bress, VP, Analytics & Business Intelligence, Freewheel, A Comcast Company
Bob Bress, VP, Analytics & Business Intelligence, Freewheel, A Comcast Company

Bob Bress, VP, Analytics & Business Intelligence, Freewheel, A Comcast Company

Edward Tufte, in his renowned book, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” noted:

Graphical excellence is that which gives to the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the smallest space.

That idea still resonates almost 20 years since its publication as a guiding principle for Data Visualization development. It is important for those who develop Data Visualizations for executive decision-making to avoid common pitfalls or risk creating more confusion, additional work, or even lead executives to make the wrong decisions. Common issues found in Data Visualization work include: lack of design with the right question in mind, showing only surface-level results, and not driving to a prescriptive next step. Designers can avoid these and other pitfalls by asking a few key questions of their visualization before delivering to an executive audience.

Is it Insightful?

Each Data Visualization should be designed to answer a specific business question. The intention of the Data Visualization should be to clearly illustrate the answer to that question through data. The ideal chart or graphic would not need an analyst to take the viewer through the meaning of the chart – the answer should jump of the page based on the chart design. Clearly labelled charts, logical use of color-coding, and even notations can help the viewer interpret what they are seeing quickly and effectively.

Does the chart tell a story?

Presenting the trend of a key metric over time is simple enough. Executives using such a visualization however will always want to go a step deeper to understand why the trend is going in a particular direction. A powerful Data Visualization will be able to tell that story. It is good to know sales are up but is it because of one large customer or many? Is it due to seasonality? Are there other factors causing a change in performance? A great Data Visualization shows clear results in a manner that anticipates the next level of questions related to what is affecting keymetrics.

Is it action-oriented?

A designer of the Data Visualization should ask themselves, “Upon seeing this chart, what should be the next action?” If the chart is not providing information that helps the decision-maker in making their next step, the chart may not be providing sufficient value. Though the information may be interesting, it is important to know, what to do with the information being portrayed. Simple chart designs, use of visual cues,and even footnotes and comment boxes can help in answering anticipated questions or describing key underlying assumptions. Overall, the visualization should allow a non-technical viewer to be able to clearly understand the results and identify the best next step.

Driving Business Results

An organization can only become data-driven if it can interpret the data available to it in a way that drives the next-best actions. Designing Data Visualizations that impact the business is both an art and a science. The art comes in designing to allow an executive to interpret a chart without an accompanying technical description. The science ensures the underlying analytics and data collection are done using proper methodologies. By designing with the business question in mind in a way that tells a clear story to prescribe action we can combine that art and science to drive major business impacts. 

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