What is Data Visualization? And Which Ones Matter for Your Business Intelligence Strategy?
What is Data Visualization?
Data visualization is the illustration of information in charts, bars, graphs, and other iage-based mediums. Data visualization serves as a way to translate dense, complex values into simple to understand (and share) graphics and charts.
Why does data visualization matter?
Data visualization helps simplify complex information so that every person who sees it can comprehend what's happening in the data. It helps illustrate trends and variations in a way that appeals to visually-oriented people as well as those who are comfortable working in spreadsheets and databases.
In other words, data visualization helps teams align on what's happening in a particular data set, as well as helping them understand why those things are happening. This of course makes it easier to find and agree upon a course of action to correct mistakes, build off positive trends, and predict problems before they arise.
Which Data Visualizations Matter to Your Business?
Having an easy selection of data visualizations is easily one of the chief benefits of business intelligence software. They can help you discover new insights and provide an at-a-glance view of your success metrics. It's up to you to choose what visualizations will best tell your data story.
Here are some of our favorite data visualizations for building out solid dashboards, comparing trends, and gaining a greater understanding of the inner workings of your company.
Unique Visualizations for Unique Intents
When building your dashboard, the first point to keep in mind is that the visualizations you choose needs to correspond with the dashboard’s primary use. For example, a sales leaderboard will look very different from a dashboard highlighting business forecasting.
A sales leaderboard will use visuals like an area chart that shows profits over time, or a bar graph that displays which salespeople have made the most sales so far that quarter. A forecasting dashboard, on the other hand, will use a stacked column/line combo graph to compare previous forecasts with actual profits, or a funnel chart that easily displays the stages of the forecasting process. (You can see examples of different dashboards on our Dashboards We Love page.)
Dissecting Data Visualizations
How do you decide which visuals will help you the most?
First, you need a solid understanding of each type of visualization so you can figure out how to best bring your data to life. Here’s a list of the most important types, including some specific examples of how they’re commonly used in a corporate dashboard:
Types of Data Visualization
Stack Column 100%
Stacked Column / Line Combo
An area chart is a line chart with the area below the line filled with color. Often, several area charts are mapped together for comparison.
Example:MachMotion uses an area chart in their sales projection dashboard to compare given quotes to booked orders.
On a bar chart, numerical values are represented by horizontal bars and compared by length.
Example: Displaying the results of a “yes/no” customer survey question.
A bar/line combo combines a bar graph with a line graph to display a trend or compare multiple data sets. It is horizontally oriented.
Example: Comparing targeted sales with actual sales.
Bubble charts are used to display data points with three numerical dimensions represented by the x-axis, y-axis, and area of the bubble.
Example: Comparing overall value with cost and profits of a group of projects.
A bullet graph is a variation of a bar graph that measures values on a qualitative range.
Example: Comparing monthly budget allocations from one year to the next.
A donut chart is a hollow circle divided into sections that each represent a portion of the whole.
Example: Comparing budgets for different departments.
Funnel charts represent stages in a sales, marketing, or other “funnel” process.
Example:Sococo uses a funnel chart to gauge the success of their sales in comparison to the success of their marketing efforts.
Gauge charts use needles to show change in a single value on a dial.
Example: Noting current customer satisfaction levels.
A line graph displays information as a series of data points connected by straight lines.
Example: Tracking unique site visitors over time.
A map chart displays geolocational data.
Example: Displaying common sales locations.
A Pareto chart contains columns and a line, where columns are presented in descending order and the line shows the cumulative total.
Example: Determining the most significant problem in a company’s customer service process.
A pie chart is a circle divided into sections that each represent a portion of the whole.
Example: Breaking down audience demographics.
A radar chart displays multivariate data on multiple axes starting from the same point.
Example: Comparing three products based on eight different characteristics.
A stacked column chart breaks down and compares parts of a whole. Columns represents the whole, and segments represent different parts of the whole.
Example:Spread the Vote uses a stacked column graph to track the number of monthly voters added per state each month.
Similar to a stacked column chart, but each column segment represents a percentage of the whole, rather than the actual value.
Example: Tracking the percentage of monthly newsletter signups by region.
Stacked Column/ Line Combo
Similar to a column/line combo, a stacked column/line combo overlays a line graph on a stacked column graph.
Example: Charting budget funds spent on specific projects.
A stacked bar chart breaks down and compares parts of a whole. Bars represent the whole, and segments represent different parts of the whole.
Example: Comparing the cost of a marketing strategy by product.
A table is a set of data systematically displayed in rows and columns.
Example: Displaying scores from employee competency surveys.
Different Visualizations for Different Data
There isn’t a set format for building out your KPI dashboard (although Grow does offer templates if you're new to BI software)—what determines the visualizations you choose is the goal that you’re driving toward. The purpose of visualizations is to bring data to life, moving it from a static spreadsheet to a more dynamic layout that your team can make sense of.