Data Visualization: The Basics

Data visualization can mean many different things to different people.  To me, it all comes down to the purpose.  WHY?  and to WHOM?

Our first data Viz meeting, held on October 17 was a quick review of why we use Data visualizations, and a review of the general principles of visualization.  We then reviewed some of the graphic design principles.  Some of these come naturally to folks, while others may be a challenge.  I want to highlight the principles here and will provide a link where you can download the powerpoint that was used during the session.

Four main purposes of Data Visualization:

  1. Analysis
  2. Communication
  3.  Monitoring
  4. Planning

Remember your audience will play a major role in helping you define how you present your data and/or your results

Five General Principles behind Data Visualization:

  1. Show the data
  2. Simplify – you want to keep the message simple and remove all the flowery bits of your visualizations
  3. Reduce the clutter – do you REALLY need all those grids or ticks on your graph??
  4. Revise your visualizations – creating a graph or a table should be viewed as part of your writing.  You don’t write something and leave it.  You write, you revise, you may write again and revise again.  Treat you visualizations in the same manner.
  5. Be HONEST!  This may sound funny – but let’s face it, there are times where the visualizations we create may have an element of exaggeration added in.  Those y-axes – where do they start?  at 0 or somewhere else?  Are we exaggerated the differences between those lines?

The attached powerpoint presentation also demonstrates some of the graphic design principles that we should be aware of as we create tables and graphs.  Please review these as you work on your visualizations.


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