5 principles of displaying data

5 principles of displaying data

I have already written about the basic principles of creating charts and data visualizations. Nevertheless the below slideshare presentation takes a simple, yet telling approach and collects 5 key principles on displaying your data. All of them are necessery to stand out and I think should be thought as a basic skill for marketers or others trying to get messages through with charts and other data driven visuals.

I would like to summarize the presentation over here in writing, but you can not miss actually going through it. The real examples and the showcases of what it actually means at times do say more than what can be written.

The first principle is telling the truth. It is all too easy to create such a messy chart that you have hard time getting out the really meaning of it and who never tried to hide performance or other metric issues behind overwhelmingly “informative” charts. Don’t do that. Your credibility matters more and when you really want to get something through people will actually believe you.

There comes directly the next principle which is getting to the point. Visualizations are cool, but you better help the viewers understand fast what there is to watch out for. A small annotation, some additional emphasis or color can do you a big favor in getting your point across.

You can not avoid the pie vs. bar vs. line chart debate when it comes to picking the right tool. I’m not gonna go into it again, but there is one additional very valid remark in the presentation: there are times when the best chart is no chart. If you have 1 or 2 key metrics or figures to showcase just make sure that this insight dominates the slide even in a written format. No need for visual clutter, just make sure that one (or two) figures pop from the slide.

Highlighting what is important sounds like a nobrainer, but a great approach is take here, which says that every data visualization actually has 3 layers:

  1. The background – that is simple, the background of your chart where you want to avoid noise as much as possible.
  2. The data – your basic chart. This is the layer where you spot your data, again avoiding clutter and too much color if possible.
  3. The emphasis – Either with sizer, color, animations or other means you shall highlight what is important. This is your final, finishing layer to make your visualization complete.
Last but not least keeping things simple is a golden rule. Do not duplicate information if you can avoid, that way you have more space left to punch your message through. Also I would advise against using too many colors or going overboard with the number of angles you want data to be displayed.

In conclusion

You need to keep your audience in mind and make sure that by conveying your message clearly in all cases, even in uncomfortable ones. If you do so consistently people will actually listen to you and will spend time in understanding what you have in store for them.

2 thoughts on “5 principles of displaying data”

  • 1
    Mohd Arif on April 10, 2015 Reply

    Data representation is an art, though which we can easily define more critical data. and any one can easily understand this type representation. I love Pie chart and circle percentage chart. because every time when we need my simple data representation i always use any one method.. this is a great article.. great work..

    Mohd Arif

    • 2
      Akos Szakaly on April 13, 2015 Reply

      Thanks Mohd, good points!

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