In his book for O’Reilly Media, Creating a Data-Driven Organization, author Carl Anderson covers a lot of ground. In fact, he doesn’t get to Zoomdata’s sweet spot--data visualization--until Chapter 7. But once he gets there, Anderson offers some keen insights.
For example, in a very humorous way, he invokes the image of Martha Stewart to get across the point that visualizations shouldn’t be “over decorated.” The point is to effectively communicate a data story, not use, as he calls it, chartjunk. He also takes aim at infographics, which he points out are often long on graphics and short on info. You can download the entire chapter for free here.
Data Isn’t Enough
It’s not? No, it isn’t. Data no matter how well presented visually needs a coherent narrative that adds context to the data and the recommendations based on that data.
Remember the parable of the blind men and the elephant? Each one was convinced that his description of the elephant was accurate. And it was… as far as it went. But they lacked a coherent narrative that could assemble the “data” into a full description of the entire elephant.
Anderson asserts that many a worthy presentation have been derailed by the lack of a narrative that unites all the elements of the data story. He also cautions against decision-making by anecdote disguised as data science. One data point is not proof.
A Sea of Dashboards
Businesses are in love with dashboards. Nevertheless, Anderson says that love affair may be ill founded. Not that he’s against dashboards. But he’s quick to note that dashboards are rarely the sole trigger mechanism for a decision. Deeper analysis is almost always required.
Anderson separates dashboards into three categories: executive or strategic, analytical, and operational--and explains the functions of each. He also reiterates one of his key themes. Don’t clutter the visual presentation! More views of the data don’t necessarily mean a more effective dashboard. But interactive capabilities that allow users to drill down and find the “why” behind the data definitely benefit decision making because it makes a compelling data visualization. Anderson also raises a point that should be obvious but nevertheless deserves mention. A dashboard is useless if no one views it or takes action based on it.
Anderson presents a very thorough analysis of how to tell effective stories with data. I’ve barely scratched the surface here. Be sure to download the entire chapter.