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Eyes open: Don't lose sight of data visualization best practices

Data visualization tools are becoming more and more common in organizations. But it's easy to go awry on visualization efforts if you aren't careful.

Data visualization software is catching the eyes of business intelligence managers and business users at more and more companies. For example, in TechTarget's 2013 Analytics & Data Warehousing Reader Survey, 36% of 664 respondents said their organizations were using data visualization and discovery tools, while another 41% said deployments of the technology were planned in the next 12 months. In response to another question, 44% said they expected their organizations to increase spending on data visualization initiatives over the next 12 months. That was the third-highest percentage among 10 technology categories, narrowly topped only by the figures for data warehousing and predictive analytics.

It isn't surprising that data visualization would be gaining in popularity. BI and analytics are becoming more central to business strategies -- and business success. As a result, many organizations are looking to broaden the use of BI data in decision-making processes. Visualizing that data can make it easier for business users to grasp, especially when data visualizations are embedded in user-friendly BI dashboards.

But it's easy to miss the mark on data visualization best practices. In an August 2013 blog post, Forrester Research analyst Ryan Morrill cited "a cascade of bad examples" of infographics and other types of visualizations with data errors and overly complicated and cluttered designs. He recommended focusing on two things in creating visualizations: engaging graphics, yes, but also a "data-driven design" in which the visual elements help to accurately depict the information being presented.

The three articles in a special edition of our Business Information magazine examine the dos and don'ts of managing successful data visualization projects. One offers advice from experienced users on finding and deploying the right BI and data visualization tools. Another provides tips on building effective data visualizations for use in dashboards. We wrap up with a look at the use of geographic information systems to help improve the quality of health care.

Craig Stedman is executive editor of SearchBusinessAnalytics. Email him at, and follow us on Twitter: @BizAnalyticsTT.

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