Visually Presenting Data
Do you ever find yourself faced with a bunch of pretty boring numbers that you want to communicate in an exciting way but don’t know how to even begin?
Robust figures can add substance to any business argument; however, you need to move away from cross-eyed inducing spreadsheets that take ages to decipher into the world of presenting information visually using charts, graphs, and infographics.
Currently, bloggers and online marketers are doing everything in their power to feed our appetite for graphics with meaning. This is because it gives clarity, appeals to different learning styles, and creates unique content that is shareable on your customers’ socials and is loved by Google.
To create meaningful visuals of your data, there are some basics to be considered. From my years spent making other people’s data tell a visual story, here’s seven tips that will have you pie charting with the best in no time.
- TIP ONE: TELL THE TRUTH
- TIP TWO: GET TO THE POINT
- TIP THREE: CHOOSE THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB
- TIP FOUR: HIGHLIGHT WHAT’S IMPORTANT
- TIP FIVE: KEEP IT SIMPLE
- TIP SIX: FUNCTION NOT FORM (YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE AN ARTIST)
- TIP SEVEN: INCLUDE YOUR SOURCES
Let’s unpack these.
TIP ONE: TELL THE TRUTH
Firstly, the most important thing to remember is: It isn’t about the data, it’s about the meaning of the data.
Nothing give your business more authority than credibility. We’re increasingly living in a commercial world where customers want what they buy to stand for more than just goods exchanged for money. Data can play a key role in communicating your ethos and values, this in turn creates customer alignment and buy-in to your offer.
TIP TWO: GET TO THE POINT
Data is great for making connections; however, we’ve all been in that situation where you are gazing at a spreadsheet and going dizzy looking at the hundreds of cells. With that in mind, we’ll look at some simple tricks that will help you highlight what you want people to get from your data.
TIP THREE: CHOOSE THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB
We’ll look at how to get handy with line charts, area charts, bar charts, pie charts, gauge charts, histograms, scatter charts, and even using icons for infographics.
Don’t just pick any old graph or chart because not all do the same job of communicating your data; for example, pie charts are difficult to understand when the slices are of a similar size as you can’t distinguish between them at first glance. In this case, you could think about displaying your data in a linear style by using a bar chart.
Whatever you want to say, there’s a chart that will help your numbers come alive by creating an easily understandable story you can share with everyone.
Let’s look at some cool graphs.
For data that changes over time, think about using a line chart. Like this:
For more than one data set that changes over time, use multiple lines. Like this:
For showing how numbers change over time, consider an area chart. Like this:
To compare differences in values, a bar chart is the way to go. Like this:
You can also go vertical. Like this:
You can also view different data sets at a glance with bar charts. Like this:
Let’s imagine 2017 was a bad year for grapes. We can show negative values like this:
When you want to show percentages or the individual parts that make up the whole, pie charts are the go to solution. We’ve all seen them, the classic pie chart looks a little like this:
You can get fancy and go for a doughnut design. Like this:
Additionally, for precision, you can add in percentage values. Like this:
If you think pie charts are boring, go for stacking you values in a bar chart. Just as with the segments of a pie chart, ensure that your stacked bar chart adds up to 100%. Like this:
We can also use this stacked technique to compare different data sets. Like this:
To illustrate progress, a simple gauge chart is effective. You’ve probably seen these used in dashboards such as those used for website analytics etc. They’re nothing too fancy, usually looking a little like this:
To show distribution from least to most common, use a histogram. A histogram looks like a bar chart, right? Not quite, the difference is that bar charts show different categories (different types of fruit), and histograms show just one category (in the example below, fruit in general is the single category). Like this:
To chart a large number of values, a scatter chart can be used. Like this:
With a scatter chart, we can communicate even more information by adding a third variable, in our case, let’s add in number of staff. We can illustrate staff size by having different sizes of dots. Turning our scatter chart into a bubble chart. Like this:
Icons and infographics are a great data visualisation techniques. There are a number of different uses. First off, you can do a pictorial representation. Like this:
Icons are great for size comparisons. Like this:
Icons are great for drawing attention to facts and figures. They’re also a fantastic alternative to the overused bullet pointed list. Like this:
I’m going to jump ahead and use tip number seven and include my sources.
On the subject of bullet points. I’m sure we’ve all seen PowerPoint presentations that are 20 slides in duration with 10 bullet points per slide. Bullet pointed lists can deaden your presentation because your audience will have difficulty focusing attention to your list, concurring with your list, and remembering your list. Avoid the overuse of bullet pointed lists.
Block charts, sometimes also called heat charts, are great for representing data in a table format with defined color ranges such as low, medium, and high. The darker the colour, the greater the “heat”. In the example here, putting together all the monthly sales figures for 2017 gives us this block chart:
The above information can also be translated into a world cloud. You’ve probably seen this technique used to illustrate uncommon/common tags used in blog posts. Like This:
The heat map idea is very effective for highlighting geographic data. The darker the colour, the higher the value. Like this:
TIP FOUR: HIGHLIGHT WHAT’S IMPORTANT
There’s no hidden knowledge to be unlocked behind tip number four. We’re all familiar with reading through a document and reaching for one of those chunky, vibrant highlighter pens and picking out the pertinent points. Remember, it isn’t about the data, it’s about the meaning of the data. Pertinent points help give meaning. Whatever you do, don’t be the person who does this:
Instead, be the person who gets to the point. Like this:
Sometimes, you’ll need to give context. This means showing all the data, highlighting what’s important, and giving the important data context. Like this:
TIP FIVE: KEEP IT SIMPLE
Don’t make people hunt to discover the information, instead, simply show them, by using the right tools, where the eye should go.
TIP SIX: FUNCTION NOT FORM (YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE AN ARTIST)
I created the graphs featured here using PowerPoint and Photoshop, but it doesn’t matter how you do it. You can go hand drawn, you can use Excel or other software.
Neat Excel tip: You can import your charts into other documents; for example, a funding proposal created in Word. This creates a link between the Excel and Word documents; meaning, if you change the data in Excel, the graph in the Word document will automatically update. Remember though, this only works if the files are linked.
TIP SEVEN: INCLUDE YOUR SOURCES
Always include where the data came from. Maybe it was your own surveys, maybe it was an academic journal. You can include it next to the graph; alternatively, if it’s part of a report or proposal, mention the source in the copy. Do this for two reasons. First, it adds credibility. Second, if anyone wants more information they know where to look.
The tips mentioned here will help your audience clearly see what you want them to see. You’ll be able to get their attention on the story behind the data, not on the data itself. All of this means your presentations chime with your audience, excites them to action, meaning they’ll take those necessary next steps.
Neil Leslie is a Business Growth Manager (BGM) for the Building Legacies programme and specialises in supporting clients who make, create, and innovate.
Neil provides the following areas of support to his Building Legacies clients who want to turn creative capital into actual capital: business planning that turns complex ideas into relatable, fundable stories; financial planning using words, pictures, and numbers; process planning, aligning efficiency with ambition.