The science behind why data visualization matters to businesses

What is data visualization?

Data is the currency of modern organizations, and the key to understanding the current picture of how a business works, and the future of where it can go. Businesses need data to better understand their customers and make informed decisions about which strategies to implement to better meet their needs. Data visualization is the key to using this data – it’s where data goes from isolated numbers and metrics to powerful statements and actionable insights.

Data visualization makes data more accessible and valuable to a larger audience by representing it in a visually clear, digestible manner. Where it can take experienced professionals to see patterns and manipulate large data sets to make them actionable, data visualization helps make your data easily ‘readable’ by anyone – helping you get your point across, connect with the audience, and bring them along for the ride. We often think of data visualization as pie charts or lines on a graph, but there are many more possibilities: heat maps, geographical maps, infographics, funnel charts, and more.

“Data visualization is part art and part science. The challenge is to get the art right without getting the science wrong and vice versa.” Claus Wilke, Fundamentals of Data Visualization

Visuals help us process information faster

We live in a highly visual world. Images surround us in every corner of our digital and physical environments. There’s a neurological explanation for this; studies from MIT have shown that the brain can decode and understand images in as little as 13 milliseconds – 30 times faster than the blink of an eye.

When we’re presented with information visually, we’re able to process it significantly faster than when it’s presented in text or writing, where the brain must follow additional steps to read, comprehend, and process. In fact, 65% of people are visual learners, meaning that we can absorb and retain information better through the use of visual aids, graphics, and images.

This, in addition to the power of data to influence decision-making, is what makes data visualization paramount to businesses.

Data visualization is an invaluable tool for optimizing your business

In 2022, Forrester Consulting published a study that revealed data literacy as the most in-demand skill for entry-level job candidates, as ranked by recruiters. While working with data is an invaluable asset to most modern businesses, transforming it into insights that can be used by stakeholders and decision-makers is another skill altogether. Data visualization is a tool that enables people to uncover specific patterns, trends, and risks that would otherwise be lost in the sea of data.

Data visualization can benefit almost every business function, from individual specialists and analysts in sales and marketing to executives and high-level decision-makers. Sales stakeholders can visualize trends and customer behavior to support the decisions they make on sales strategy. Decision-makers can pinpoint bottlenecks and gaps in their business plan that need attention. Analysts can create financial reports that are easy to read, and communicate with others in an organization using a common language, regardless of whether they have expertise in analyzing numerical data. The applications of data visualization are endless.

Various types of visualization can be applied to different data and scenarios. Some of the most common ones include:

Adobe boils down the utility of data visualization into 3 main purposes:

  1. To explore
    When you need to quickly make sense of data, exploration-focused data visualization can help you collect, clean, and curate the data to quickly highlight valuable insights.
  2. To monitor
    When you need to track performance, monitoring-focused data visualization like dashboards can help you focus on the right indicators and take action.
  3. To explain
    When you want to go deeper on a subject or problem or explain it back to others, data visualizations focused on explanation are useful to make large amounts of information accessible to a broader audience.

Data visualization is what helps us transform raw data into a compelling narrative and provides us with insights and actionable direction. As the world becomes increasingly digital and data-driven, the power of data visualization is no longer an aspiration, but an imperative. This is a skill set that helps improve data literacy throughout the team, foster clarity across functions, and elevate your organization’s ability to make informed decisions with confidence.

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