Visualising Data Through Design
Data visualisation is often thought of as just making information into pretty pictures that are easier to digest and more comfortable on the eye.
But this would be overlooking an obvious point: humans are visual creatures. We don’t naturally understand the world through words and figures, we understand it through objects, colours and the interactions and relationships between them.
Just as you’d expect, then, we have more neurons for vision than all our other senses combined. When our eyes are open, two-thirds of the electrical activity in the brain is dedicated solely to processing visual data.
The result is that we’re wired to respond to colours, images, and graphic representations much faster than text — around sixty-thousand times faster. It also means we find it much easier to make new connections and retain information if it comes
Thus, for businesses trying to convey a message or concept, the advantages of data visualisation are clear. Of course, some things are better said in an essay or blog post. But when you need to communicate a complex set of multidimensional relationships, what may take hours or days to get across in words can often be conveyed instantly with a graph or a chart.
The trick is to know how to do it. Data has been called the oil of the 21st century; It informs innovation, builds better systems, enhances workflows, and attracts investors. But it’s only as useful as your ability to understand and interpret it. And so if you don’t know how to visualise your data well, you’ve pretty much got an untapped well.
This is where design comes in. By using design to convey data, companies are better able to make sense of their operations and performance and build on their experience to continually improve and grow.
As a digital agency, we make use of design throughout all stages of our client projects — from initial idea generation to final presentations and the themselves. Here’s an insight into exactly how we do it.
Mastering The Art of Data Visualisation
Visualising data through design is as much of an art as painting or drawing. And like an artist, you need to understand , but before anything, how to choose the best medium to work in.
To communicate results or relationships, there’s a host of types of charts and graphs to choose from. Line charts are ideal for displaying trends. Bar charts work for value comparisons. Stacked graphs and doughnut charts are good for showing the composition of data.
For displaying stages in a process, there are two popular options: flowcharts and Entity Relationship Diagrams (ERDs). The familiar flowchart explains a series of sequential steps through a set of connected symbols. ERDs are similar to flowcharts but make use of three types of symbols — entities, actions, and attributes — to visualise databases and how information in a system is related.
We make frequent use of flowcharts and ERDs to visualise system processes, for example in mapping the entire user journey from client enquiries to issuing invoices. When deconstructed into a series of steps, every possible action and event can be explored — including things like creating new customer accounts, preparing quotes, completing the work, rectifying problems, and getting approval from the client.
When used more for backend development, colour doesn’t play a big part in flow and entity diagrams. But on the client end, it is used to help convey meaning — typically how a particular data set is performing and/or what requires the most attention.
For instance, due to its association with importance and warning, red may be used to show when a value is at a critically high or dangerously low level. Green or blue, with their association to nature and safety, may be used to represent stable levels and target markers. Orange and yellow, as they’re related to positivity and energy, may be used to represent growth and values that are performing well.
A Data Visualisation Case Study
Monitor Pro is a tool for monitoring and measuring your business’s environmental and sustainability data. Safe to say, when the company approached us, they needed a design that would be able to get across huge amounts easily and quickly. This would help the customers who use their product stay in compliance, share reports with their stakeholders, and avoid being landed with large breach fines.
In , we used flowcharts and ERDs to map how users would interact with the tool and how data would flow through the system. This gave us a much clearer idea of the relationship between certain events and actions, allowing us to quickly find discrepancies and irregularities and ultimately make the connections tighter and more efficient.
When it came to actually visualising the data in the user dashboard, we turned to line graphs, contour plots, doughnut charts, and bar charts. Such diagrams integrate with other software like MS Office and, as they’re universally recognised, are most effective in reporting and sharing data.
Most importantly, however, is the fact they could be made interactive and to, therefore, support the changing nature of data. We’re used to thinking about data as fixed values that can be analysed. But data is a moving target. And so, as well as being able to capture a certain measurement at a certain time, the tool also needed to be able to over several months or years, and spot changes or track new interventions as they’re occurring in real time.
In every single moment, we’re taking in masses of data. We just don’t think of it that way because we’re taught information only comes in densely-packed marketing reports or incomprehensible spreadsheets. Visualising data with design bridges this gap in comprehension, allowing information to be freed from the bounds of dullness and communicated in a way that is more attractive, more absorbable, and more effective in making a change.