Why is data visualization so challenging?

Data visualization is very powerful, but it can also be hard. That’s because a great data visual combines three different aspects simultaneously.

The three properties of a great data visual

  • A great data visual is clear: it communicates a strong message and is easy to understand without too much additional explanation.
  • A great data visual is correct: it presents the data in an accurate and appropriate way, and is unambiguous.
  • A great data visual is beautiful: it is inviting to look at, and uses colour, typography and other design elements in the right way to support its message.
the venn diagram of great data visuals, showing that a great data visual is simultaneously clear, correct and beautiful

That also implies that we, as data visualizers, need to consider three different aspects when creating a data visual:

  • the communication aspect, in order to make our visual clear,
  • the analytical aspect, in order to make it correct, and
  • the design aspect, in order to make it beautiful.

If one of these aspects is missing, we end up with a suboptimal chart. A chart can be beautiful and correct but confusing to navigate, causing the message to be lost. Or it can be very beautiful and clear, but fall apart because the underlying data or the representation of it is flawed. A lot of charts we encounter are clear and correct, but simply boring or uninviting to look at, because they were not designed to look good.

Three different skills

So, in order to create a powerful chart we must apply our communication, our analytical ánd our design skills. Most people feel comfortable with one or two of these skill sets, but not with all of them. Many people in analytical jobs, such as researchers, engineers or consultants, struggle with the design aspects of a visual. People with a role in communication, such as journalists or marketeers, often feel uncomfortable to dive into data analytics and the theoretical principles behind charts. And professional designers can make their visuals look beautiful, but don’t always succeed in crafting a crystal-clear message.

If you recognize yourself in one of these worries, fear not! I am convinced that anyone can create great data visuals on the intersection of clarity, correctness and beauty.

If you want to know more about visualizing data in the right way, you can check out the other videos in this series. Or I invite you to read my book, Powerful Charts, that will give you actionable insights and practical guidelines to create data visuals that truly engage and inspire your audience.

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7 different goals for your chart

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