What visual should I use?

Following on my last blog post, I am frequently asked what visual to use to display data.  While I often hear this question about dashboards, it also applies to many formats including websites, infographics and PowerPoint slides.

There are  many excellent sources that describe visualization best practices as well as recommend what data visualizations to use.  Here are three that I have used:

1.  Dona Wong’s The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics.  For more details, please see  http://donawong.com .

2.  Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic’s book called Storytelling with Data.  For more details, please see  http://www.storytellingwithdata.com/book .

3.   The web site from data to viz.  Based on the type of data you have, the website recommends different types of visuals.  In addition, it provides caveats so you can avoid common mistakes.

I hope you find this helpful the next time you are wondering what visualization to use.

What do you think of my dashboard?

I was asked recently to provide feedback on a dashboard, particularly the look and the feel of the charts.  Instead, of evaluating the layout of the page or the use of particular chart types to display data, I started asking questions:

  • Who are the users of the dashboard?
  • What do they already know about this topic?
  • What are their priorities?
  • What do they need to know to make decisions or take action on this data?

Often I am asked to critique a dashboard or another form of data visualization.  However, you cannot evaluate data visualizations until you know the use case.  A use case is the specific situation in which the data visualization, in this case a dashboard, will be used.  Without this knowledge it is difficult to tailor the dashboard to meet the needs of the user or the situation.

Once you know the use case, then the questions become:

  • Is this data new or does it offer something new?
  • Is the data being reliably captured?
  • Is the data timely and accessible?
  • How can you bring the data to life with visualization?