Thursday, November 24, 2011

Diving into Data Visualisation

When is a pie chart the best way of communicating data - almost never.

Whilst I have fought the good fight for the abolition of unnecessary pie charts for many years it was refreshing to hear why from one of the worlds leading experts in data visualisation. For an excellent discussion on why see this article.


This week I had the rare opportunity to take a few days out of the office to attend Stephen Few's course “Visual Business Intelligence” in Canberra. For 3 days straight it was nothing but data and visualisation. During the course we went from how we perceive to sophisticated analytical techniques to dive into massive datasets using visualisation tools.

Some key take aways:

  1. Select the chart type and tool wisely and with the purpose of communicating the data utmost in your mind.
  2. There are good rules about which chart type to use and when. Stephen Few has provided an excellent chart to show which to use and when.
  3. Dashboards should visually communicate all important information to identify the performance of the business, website or other activity at a glance and in one screen. 
  4. Interactive dashboards that require that you select options to select the data to display are far less effective as these require you to remember the data between screens. At a glance is far more effective.
  5. 3D charts are rarely useful except in the hands of highly skilled and trained technicians who have the experience to understand and interpret them.
  6. Data analysis is far easier where all of the data can be explored intuitively and in near real time.

I encourage you to tune into Stephen Few's blog and to buy his books. If you have attended one of Stephen Few's course, I'd like to hear your key take aways. Please feel free to add a comment.

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