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See, Know, Act: How Visual Design Standards Improve Analytical Literacy

The Power of Visualization

Humans are wired to process information visually. Our eyes contain 70% of all the sensory receptors in our body and half of our brain's resources are devoted to visual processing. In the field of business, a well-designed visualization can quickly communicate a lot of information to business users who need to make decisions and take action. As such, data visualization has huge potential to both quicken the pace of business and the quality of decisions.

Unfortunately, data visualization is in its infancy and few people are schooled in the art of visual design for quantitative information. Most companies still produce a countless stream of traditional reports that contain endless tables of dense, numeric data that few business people read, and even fewer get value from.

The Rise of Pseudo Designers

On the other hand, the software industry has embraced data visualization like a long-lost friend. Today, most reporting and analysis tools come with a vast library of visual objects and options, giving business analysts and report developers carte blanche to design any visualization they can possibly imagine. The software now beckons developers to set their imaginations free and express themselves visually. But like a toddler who is given their first paint set, the results are usually outlandish, if not downright garish!

For example, pseudo visual designers create dashboards that mimic the dashboards in automobiles or planes; they spray a mishmash of colors on, under, and within every object in a report; they place objects on the screen haphazardly, based on "what looks good" to them; and each report they build has different fonts, styles, charts, layouts and features so no two reports look or read the same. These pseudo designers get countless kudos from colleagues who love the creativity and splash of color that livens up their heretofore gray and gloomy reports with which they have suffered for years. But

Where's the Data?

Of course, what gets lost in this headlong creative rush is the data-the very thing the report is designed to highlight. The graphical flourishes of a pseudo designer make it harder for business users to identify what's important in the data and what to do about it. The message of the data gets hidden behind the designer's visual ego, expressed with multiple layers of decoration and color.

The purpose of visualization-unlike cosmetics-is not to hide the truth, but magnify it, so what's important gets seen and acted upon quickly. A well-designed visual report highlights the message behind the data and instantly impels business users to discuss, decide and act. That's the power of data visualization-to move from seeing to doing in a nanosecond.

To read more, click the report to the right.

Wayne Eckerson

Wayne Eckerson is an internationally recognized thought leader in the business intelligence and analytics field. He is a sought-after consultant and noted speaker who thinks critically, writes clearly and presents...

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