From watching the news to schoolwork and even knowing what foods are healthy, many everyday activities are enhanced by a graphical representation of data. Even in high-stress environments like conflict zones and ER rooms, data visualization eases up processes and can help decision-makers save lives.
Research published by the Social Science Resource Network estimates that 65% of people are visual learners. In contrast to people who learn by hearing or doing things, visual learners have a significantly enhanced understanding of the data given to them through images. This translates into them performing better on tests after being given a visual representation of information rather than learning in oral or written form (source).
What is data visualization?
Data visualization is the portrayal of data in a visual form. Data visualization simplifies data, making it extremely useful to convey information, even from big data pools, in a concise and timely manner.
The need for effective data visualization emerged from the ever-growing interaction between humans and machines. Graphics and visual designs can have a great impact on people’s understanding of digital information, making data visualization solutions extremely useful to improve the efficiency and productivity of computer-assisted activities.
In today’s world, companies are constantly producing and gathering big data, but without a visualization solution, this data becomes unwieldy and hard to communicate. According to the Corporate Renaissance Group, more than 70% of businesses are collecting data they will not make proper use of, in large part due to not implementing graphical representation solutions into business operations (source).
The field of visualizing data is multidisciplinary and people from all walks of life, from business owners to medical researchers, can benefit from having a visual representation of the abstract aspects of their jobs. Data visualization improves the decision-making process in many academic and economic fields, including the following:
- Scientific research
- Drug discovery
- Data mining
- Financial data analytics
- Production control manufacturing
- Market studies
- Crime mapping
- Digital libraries
How Data Visualization Works
Data visualization presents a clear visual representation of data, free of the clutter common in unorganized datasets. Patterns in data are much easier to perceive in a visual form, making it easier for people to understand its contents and draw actionable conclusions.
Data visualization takes advantage of human beings’ instinctive need of understanding our environments visually. The human brain reacts differently when trying to understand pictures or bodies of text. When reading, the brain must first process the information before being able to form ideas around it. In contrast, data in a visual form is immediately assimilated in its entirety by the mind as if it were a scene or a new place.
Simple aspects of data visualization, such as things looking bigger, smaller, shorter, or taller, have a strong psychological impact. Effective data visualization takes a dataset and uses our psychological responses to images to present a concise digest. As summarized by renowned American computer scientist Ben Schneiderman, “The purpose of visualization is insight, not pictures”.
What are data visualization tools?
Data visualization tools are software solutions designed for the explicit purpose of creating a visual representation of data. The most basic function of data visualization tools is to receive input from a dataset and employ algorithms to arrange the information visually.
There is a large variety of data visualization tools on the market and many approaches to big data visualization, but consensus states that there are two primary categories of data visualization:
- Exploration: visualization helps understand the data
- Explanation: the data is used to tell the audience a story.
Numerous techniques are employed by data visualization solutions to arrange and portray information and most people have regular contact with some of them in their everyday lives.
Some examples of data visualization techniques include:
- Pie charts
- Bar charts
- Area charts
- Line charts
- Bar graphs
- Scatter plots
- Box-and-whisker plots
- Stripe graphics
- Venn diagrams
- Radar charts
- Heat maps
4 ways data visualization improves decision making
Here are 4 ways data visualization improves decision making:
- Data visualization tools speed up processes
- A data-driven decision is more accurate
- Visualization simplifies data
- It enhances collaboration
1. Data visualization tools speed up processes
Visualization tools provide a solid organizational structure for decision-makers to rely on, giving them the information to understand their potential choices quickly. Data visualization makes it easier to discern patterns in data and this, in turn, causes probable issues or opportunities for development to stand out.
Without the help of data visualization, organizations can fail to notice problems developing, losing the chance to tackle them before they become exceptionally harmful. Companies also run the risk of running behind their competitors if their business intelligence is not modernized and enhanced with effective data visualization.
In fast-paced environments like government bodies or the healthcare industry, life-and-death decisions must be made on the fly. In these situations, data visualization tools become a crucial aid for authority figures who have to make high-impact decisions about the future of nations and the lives of people.
2. A data-driven decision is more accurate
One could have all of the data in the world, but if it is not in a consumable form then it becomes impossible to draw conclusions from it. It is unreasonable to expect someone to scroll through thousands of spreadsheets, read all the data, remember it, and then make informed decisions upon their findings. Thankfully, data visualization tools provide large amounts of information in a clear visual format.
People in managerial positions need to be action-oriented to perform their duties, and crunching numbers break up their pace. Nonetheless, not having data properly organized can cause people to rely on their own biases instead of the facts, which can lead to issues developing along the way. Data visualization tools provide a means for business leaders to make decisions without having to make assumptions.
3. Visualization simplifies data
Data visualization simplifies the communication process for everyone. Not only is visualizing data an easier way to understand it, but it also makes it effortless to transmit its contents to other people.
The data visualization process aims to create harmony between the functional aspects of data with an aesthetically pleasing presentation. This mixture is not only meant to make data more comprehensible, but it also stimulates engagement and attention in users. Hence, data visualization provides an intuitive way of easily communicating valuable insights from complex datasets.
4. Enhancing collaboration
Organizations are composed of several people, and more often than not, the decision-making process requires or benefits from the input of various individuals. Data visualization guarantees that all team members are up to speed with the facts, saving time that would otherwise be taken by transmitting information verbally or answering redundant questions.
If messages aren’t clear, people will not be able to work to their fullest potential, and even their best intentions can be counterintuitive. For instance, someone in a managerial position might notice from their dataset that some employees are falling behind and require further training. In this case, a visual representation of employees’ performance may help them understand which areas of their job they need help in.
Benefits and Business Impact of Data Visualization
The main benefit of data visualization is the portrayal of patterns in data. Having a visual representation of the information at hand can save individuals and businesses the time and effort of performing the data analytics process by themselves.
Before putting a strategy into action, it is important to review it. Constant assessment of strategies is extremely beneficial to the decision-making process. With the help of data visualization, organizations can evaluate the effectiveness of their strategies and have clear indications on any arising issues, which they can then easily communicate to other team members.
By closely monitoring performance and outcomes, companies can adjust future strategies to increase their efficiency. On the other hand, if the completion of goals staggers or performance begins to drop, data visualization tools will give a clear insight into what is hindering the production process.
Inconsistencies in data that may be imperceptible at a simple glance are highlighted with the help of data visualization. The psychological impact of numbers on a spreadsheet is not the same as a graphical representation of what those numbers mean, making data visualization ideal for recognizing and correcting errors.
Enhance Universal Comprehension
One great aspect of visual representations of data is that the language they use is universal. People from different cultures and backgrounds can easily absorb the key ideas of a dataset if it is presented to them in a visual form. Therefore, business owners who wish to expand their companies abroad or people who work in multicultural environments can improve the quality of their work by implementing data visualization.
For instance, if a participant in a meeting is not fluent in the main language used by the presentation, data visualization can provide a medium they can use to keep track of the exposed information. Moreover, data presented visually is easier to translate on the spot than bodies of text.
Facilitates Informed Decision-Making
In modern environments, the amount of data at hand is so vast that it is unfeasible for someone to handle it without the help of technological assistance. What would take data visualization tools seconds to achieve could take a person months or years to get the same output.
A thorough business decision requires time and thought. However, the conditions that lead us to make high-impact decisions may call for haste, and lots of data may need to be rapidly reviewed. By incorporating data visualization tools into their operations, businesses can fast-track the decision-making process while also having the facts to justify their choices.
Perform a Sentiment Analysis
Sentiment analysis is often performed by companies and brands to gauge customer satisfaction. During a sentiment analysis, artificial intelligence solutions monitor a brand’s online reputation to better understand the needs and desires of customers. This practice gathers large quantities of data stemming from social media sites and other online interactions and can even produce real time client mood analysis.
Needless to say, sentiment analysis works with vast datasets, which are incomprehensible until an algorithm runs through them and parses the information. This cataloged information must then go through data visualization tools if it is to be properly understood by the end user.