Last week I attended the NTC 2014 conference in Washington DC. It’s interesting how each year the topics of interest shift, and you can really see it by overcrowded sessions and extensive notes in Google Docs. This year there were eight sessions with the word “data” in their titles. I attended three out of those eight and all of them were crowded, with attendees asking a lot of questions at the end of each session. Clearly, data was at the top of everyone’s list this year.
One of the sessions I personally got a lot out of was called “DataViz! Tips, Tools, and How-tos for Visualizing Your Data”. The panel consisted of Ann Emery and Johanna Morariu from Innovation Network, Inc. and Andrew Means from Groupon. The panelists shared a multitude of visually inspiring examples, dataviz tips and tools, which attendees could take and apply to their everyday work. Here’s a summary of the information they presented, courtesy of a few very diligent NTEN community members @brianpcavanaugh, @nategasser, @kopperwoman and @annkemery, along with some of the notes I took. To check out the full presentation deck, see the link at the end of the post. Be sure and check out the before and after examples (everyone loves their before/after visuals)!
Top Line Takeaways:
- Keep it Simple: Visual data should be intuitive, simplify the story and not put too much into a single visual. Break it out into multiple visuals if you have to.
- Be Purpose Driven: What are goals of the project? What do you need the user to walk away, which brings us to…
- Focus on the End User: Ask yourself what does your end user care about, what do they need to know, what story do you want tell them, what do I want them to do with this information? Data visualization should be actionable.
The speakers then provided a neat 6 step process to help you work through your data design (they did have 7 steps in the presentation, but the last point dealt less with the creation aspect and more with sharing the final product, check out the presentation for the full list):
Dataviz Design Process
1. Select your story.
- Pick one result/conclusion (of many possible options) to highlight
- Decide on a type of visualization (Charts & graphs, infographics, maps, pictures, diagrams)
2. Reduce the clutter.
- Remove or reduce the border, grid lines, and tick marks (see the image below for as an example)
3. Directly label.
- Place data labels right next to your data. Imagine your visualization in black and white — would users still be able to get what you want them to out of your visual?
4. Use action color.
- Use an action color to emphasize the key point, to help guide the reader’s eye with color (i.e. grey bars for comparison and bolder color for the data point you want to emphasize)
5. Summarize your story in the title.
- Make sure your data slide has a title on it. Add captions or annotations if more details are needed. Again imagine if your end user prints just that one slide, will they have the full story?
- The squint test: look at your chart and squint. If you can see the shape of the data, then you’re doing it right. You shouldn’t be distracted by grids, plot lines, etc.
- The Significant Other Test (Grandmother Test): Give your chart to someone else and ask what they’re getting out of it.
Additional tools and resources from the panel:
- Excel Tutorial by Ann Kemery
- R – open-source programming data management language and tool, check out R Studio tool itself, according to the panel it’s really easy to use
- Google Fusion Tables – free, easy to learn
- TableauSoftware.com – web-based visualization
- Infogr.am – free, web-based infographic tool
- Editable maps from Presentation Magazine
- NodeXL – tutorial from http://www.slideshare.net/j_morariu/
- Blogs – Story Telling with Data, Data Visualization Techniques for Those Who Can’t Draw on Beth Kanter’s Blog.
- Books – The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte, Designing with the Mind in Mind by Jeff Johnson