This content is part of the Essential Guide: Guide to telling stories with data: How to share analytics insights
Manage Learn to apply best practices and optimize your operations.

McKnight: Good data visualization techniques tell a story about data

In an increasingly data-oriented business world, the correct use of data visualization techniques is becoming essential to business success, according to consultant William McKnight. "Your data has a story to tell," McKnight stated in a webcast presentation recorded for SearchBusinessAnalytics in which he provided tips on creating effective data visualizations that inform business users without confusing them.

"There are seven big rules of data visualization," McKnight said, adding that they must be followed to properly deploy data visualization tools and take full advantage of them. For example, a visualization must not distort data by using strange angles, nonlinear axes or misleading starting points for the axes, he said; doing so manipulates the user's view of the data and can end up leaving them confused about what is being shown. Similarly, a visualization should use familiar icons, colors and arrangements to ease user interpretation, said McKnight, who is president of McKnight Consulting Group in Plano, Texas.

Data visualizations must also include sufficiently detailed information in order to meet end-user expectations. "If [you're] at a decision point about whether to go more or less detailed … go more detailed," McKnight advised. Furthermore, good data visualization leads to action-taking. He emphasized that in successful visualization efforts, "there must be a point in time in which [users] are looking at the display and deciding, 'I'm going to do something different.'" Well-designed visualizations will function as a catalyst for change within an organization, he added.

Perhaps most importantly, McKnight pointed out that it's necessary to know what a particular piece or set of data really shows in order to choose the appropriate type of visualization for it. He also provided an overview of the eight data visualization techniques that he views as essential: bar charts, line charts, sparklines, bullet graphs, scatter plots, treemaps, background mapping and infographics. With an understanding of them as a starting point, McKnight said, business users can begin creating informative data visualizations and build off of that foundation through time and experience.

In the webcast, hosted by SearchBusinessAnalytics Executive Editor Craig Stedman, McKnight further discussed data visualization best practices and techniques. Listeners will:

  • Get advice on the complexities and correct uses of the basic types of data visualizations.
  • Get up to speed on terminology to use in the data visualization arena.
  • Gain an understanding of the context in which different data visualizations can be most useful.
  • Learn about best practices in data visualization and key visualization trends to be aware of.

Text by Hannah Pullen-Blasnik, editorial assistant. Email us at [email protected] and follow us on Twitter: @BizAnalyticsTT.

View All Videos