Three Purposes of Data Viz

February 10, 2015 Basics 0 Comments

So why do we use data visualization?

Apart from processing a set of data so that you can find a conclusion or a message for your own self – in which the purpose is analysis and your role is being an analyst – in business life you will be presenting data to others for the purpose of either communication, planning or monitoring.


1.   Communication


You are in possession of a message or conclusion, either forwarded to you or you have acquired it by yourself, and you want to pass it on to others within your organization, either horizontally or vertically. You will be communicating the message and your role here is communicator.

As communicator in this sense, it is your goal that the end-user will understand and acquire the message and conclusion as it was intended. The end-user should be able to receive the right message and the whole of the right message. The message must be expressed in an easy way, so it is perceived quickly and clearly.


Remember that you are not visualizing the data to satisfy your own interests or needs, you will be visualizing the data with only the end-user in mind. As the message needs to be presented clearly, keep these simple rules in mind in your presentations:

  • Avoid overusing colors, keep the number of colors to a minimum
  • Refrain from using too bright colors
  • Avoid too much “noise”
  • Supply adequate data, specify units of measurement
  • Avoid round graphs as our eyes are designed to comprehend square objects better
  • Don´t make your graphs too big
  • Understand when to use tables and/or graphs, and which tables and/or graph in each case
  • Don´t be afraid of being boring, you can use the same type of graphs over and over again if they are the right ones


2.   Planning


The second purpose for data processing refers to when you are planning. Examples might be a budget or forecast, but also when you are adding a new product to your portfolio and you are looking into customers, future sales prices, cost of goods sold, etc.


Here, the user is taking an active part in the process as opposed to when you are being a communicator. During a planning process, parties involved will be contributing with their share, so the whole process needs to be clearly visualized, and the important milestones must be well highlighted. There is a need to showcase the process from start to finish.

Use diagrams to explain and highlight the flow and the process. Reveal clearly the contribution of each party with adequate documentation of each step of the process. Color-code flows. Highlight which values and parameters are pre-set and which ones are the result of input during the process. Use tables primarily so the users can look up and compare individual and specific values, and add relevant graphs to show the big picture.


3.   Monitoring


Monitoring occurs when you basically are on alert.

You are making that something is working properly and you are eliminating or reducing disruptions or disorders. Monitoring can be static – for example you are covering the average collection period over three months – or it can be dynamic – you are supervising an emergency dispatch unit.

In case of monitoring, life is good as long as there is no disruption, or negative deviation below what is considered as tolerable.


When there is a disruption to the normal, action is necessary. That means that when you are visualizing the data for the purpose of monitoring, alert function is the most important component.

Concentrate and focus on the negative deviation.

Use bright colors and/or audio aid tools to grab the attention when action is needed. As action is often not needed when there is no negative deviation, you don´t need to alert to the positive deviation. You can use, for example, green for good, yellow for await and red for action, but since the red is the critical one, your goal is to ensure that everybody understands when something is turning red, so maybe you can replace the green and yellow with a discrete grey to further enhance the red.