As the need for gathering data becomes easier, companies now have to manage their data and provide a better way to uncover intelligent, actionable, and accessible insights from all their data sources. Data science and business analytics are key pieces of the puzzle – but going from data models and analytics to producing actionable business insights in a timely manner requires you to master the art and science of data visualization. In our experience, a lot of companies want to invest and build their data visualizations strategy. The problem many face is…where do you begin?

In this blog, the first of Luxoft’s new series on data monetization and innovation, we dive into the problem of “where to begin” with data visualization. Without an effective strategy, your business will struggle to derive value from your data.

The three components of effective data visualization

Let’s start with understanding the 3 fundamental puzzle pieces of data visualization so we can expand and unpack new insight.

Data Science: The technology-driven “back end” of a big data solution. Data scientists essentially build the “pipeline” that carries the raw data from the source to the screen.

Business Analytics: The statistical, insights-driven side of the data. Business analysts analyze, consume, and act on the implications of the data they see.

User Experience (UX): The user-focused research and design of the end product. UX practitioners consider and design around the practical situations that the user will encounter along the way.

Without the right user experience, you can easily miss key business insights hiding in your data

User experience might seem like the odd one out in that trio, considering that data science and business analytics seem to be at the core of how we think about data. If you haven’t considered that your data has an audience of users before, perhaps you should. We encounter our fair share of clients who come to us with data and a request to visualize it for them without elaborating further. In one case, I asked one of our clients, a leader in aviation, what data was most useful to them and they replied, “We don’t know. It’s never been done before, so let’s just see what any data looks like.” It’s understandable and common to not have a ready answer for this question. That is why it is so important to consider the use case of your data.

Getting the UX right means asking the right questions

When understanding how to visualize your data, our team always starts by asking these questions:

  1. Who will be viewing this data?
  2. What questions are you trying to answer?
  3. How is this data currently presented, if at all?
  4. What is your end goal with this new visualization?
  5. Will they be viewing these graphs on a monitor, laptop, or mobile device?
  6. Will they be shared over email or within a browser?
  7. Are you presenting this information to analysts who need granular details or to executives who want a cursory glance?

Ideally, the more details the better we can serve them—but even a few answers help.

Just like a single data point without context lacks meaning, building a graph without understanding its usage context is shortsighted. It’s important to know how your data will be consumed by your audience. It sounds simple, but in most of the situations where a company has data and doesn’t know what to do with it, they probably have not stopped to ask these questions.

Anyone can drop a table in Excel and spit out a pretty graph, but you won’t achieve those desired insights without a dialogue about who your audience is and your business goals. Data visualization goes beyond cranking out graphs in Excel, or even specialty tools like Power BI, Tableau, and raw code. Data visualization engineers maintain a toolkit of graph types, software proficiency, quantitative analytics, and UX skills.

A well-trained data visualization practitioner knows how to ask the appropriate design questions upfront and how to adapt data to the right audience. For instance:

  • What types of data are being visualized (time-series, parts of a whole, categorical vs. continuous, etc.)?
  • What branding considerations need to be made? This can influence color palettes, font choice, and spacing.
  • What questions is the data answering? Is there anything non-obvious that needs to be mentioned in an annotation?
  • What terminology is appropriate for the audience viewing this? Are they experts in the subject matter or is this meant for public consumption?

Luxoft is here to help you craft effective data visualizations – fast!

The key elements of user research and design involve stepping back to understand the experience of your end-users. This isn’t just a suggestion, but an inevitable necessity. The amount of data in the world doubles every two years. The market valuation for data visualization is forecasted to grow 10% per year through 2023. That is why it is vital to grow and become knowledgeable about your data and business. Basically, if you’re looking to explore the depths of your data, now is a great time to do it. Data visualization is becoming the key driver for many businesses to make valuable decisions for the future, and there are plenty of experts to help you at Luxoft.

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Joe Bernstein
Joe Bernstein is a Data Visualization Engineer at Luxoft. He has produced innovative data solutions for some of the premier Seattle tech companies. His Master of Science in Human Centered Design & Engineering from the University of Washington ensures that user experience is always a central concern, even for data.