The idea of data visualization is simple. You’ll take raw data from just about anything, process it, and convert it into something visual that can be interpreted more easily. For example, instead of looking at endless tables of numbers charting human population growth, you could turn them into a pie chart or bar graph and see how those numbers look visually.
Thanks to business intelligence tools for different databases, such as MySQL, and an abundance of BI dashboards, it’s easier than ever to get access to data visuals. But why is data visualization so powerful and so important? And what are the best ways to take advantage of it?
The Biggest Advantages of Data Visualization?
Data visuals are especially valuable for the following reasons:
1. Immediate processing. Human beings are naturally good at processing visual data, more so than written numbers. In fact, your brain is more than 60,000 times faster at processing images than it is at processing text. You could spend hours poring over complex data sheets and trying to make sense of the information – or you could look at a graph and come to a conclusion in mere seconds. It’s a way to save time and form more intuitive conclusions.
2. Spotting patterns and trends. Visuals also do a great job of allowing people to spot patterns and trends – even if they aren’t a trained data scientist. Seeing bars on a graph rise over time or seeing dramatic changes from one chart to the next will jump out at you as significant. Subtle changes in numbers on a page may not have the same effect.
3. Experiments and variations. With the right tools, data visuals also make it easy to conduct small-scale experiments and tinker with variations. If you tweak a couple of variables, how do the graphs change? What are you projecting these graphs will look like in the future?
4. Real time change tracking. Similarly, data visuals are ideal for real-time data processing, which is becoming increasingly crucial in business data analysis. If you’re tracking a real-time metric, like how many people are on your website at a given time, sudden fluctuations in your visuals will be hard to miss.
5. Communication and sharing. One of the best advantages of data visuals is that they make data easier to communicate. You can share complex data sets in a manageable way that’s intuitive even to non-experts.
Drawbacks to Consider
Of course, no technology or presentation method is perfect, so it’s also important to understand some of the weaknesses of data visualization, which include:
· An incomplete story. Looking at the raw data is a bit grueling, but it does tell you the full story. When glancing at a visual, you might miss the impact of an outlier or ignore some trends that are more apparent in the raw data. While most visuals do a great job of capturing the high-level, they’re still somewhat incomplete.
· False confidence. Big data sets are always complex. Looking at a data visual that attempts to simplify that complexity might give you a false sense of confidence – like you can easily wrap your head around something that’s difficult for even an expert to understand. Fortunately, this weakness can easily be overcome with a bit of humility.
· Weaknesses in formulation. There’s also the possibility that there are errors in how the data is being formulated or presented. Data visuals are only as good as the people who programmed the tools that created them; if the software is shoddy or unreliable, the quality of your data visuals is going to suffer.
Getting the Most Out of Data Visualization
If you want to get all the advantages of data visualization while minimizing the downsides, it’s important to:
· Use the right tools. Not all data visualization tools are created equal. Do your due diligence when evaluating the data visualization tools on the market, or better yet, invent some of your own.
· Look at data in multiple ways. Different visuals might lead you to different conclusions. Try to look at data from multiple different angles when analyzing it – and see how your conclusions change.
· Challenge your assumptions. Don’t let confirmation bias or other biases cloud your analyses. Data visuals can give you a false sense of confidence about patterns that may not actually be there. But if you challenge your assumptions and work to get the full story, you’ll have a clearer picture of reality.
When used correctly, data visualizations have incredible power to make data easier to process and communicate. That said, there are also some weaknesses to consider. With the right tools on your side and an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of data visualization, you’ll be in a much better position to succeed.