Content Strategy

What is Data Visualisation?

5 years ago

Have you ever looked at a big spreadsheet and thought…‘WTF’? If so, you are certainly not alone.

When I’m dealing with a lot of data I probably spend a good 10 minutes just staring at a screen of numbers, columns and READ.ME notes before doing anything remotely productive. 

But fear not, as fun as it is to mindlessly stare at things, there is a better way to digest, share and celebrate data… It’s a magical thing that makes key trends and stories stand out in a flash, engages even the biggest spreadsheet haters of the world and makes data EVEN sexier (yes that is possible). It’s called… 

Data visualisation

Now, most of us have heard of data visualisation (or data viz if you're a cool kid), but if you haven’t, I will define data visualisation for you using this simple formula: 

Data + story + design = data visualisation 

Easy. Kind of.

The problem with data viz (yes, I’m a cool kid), is that design is hugely subjective. Designs, formats and interactive elements that might be super clear and beautiful to you, could be tragically complicated and unattractive to someone else. This disconnect between creator and user is common, you only have to Google ‘infographic’ and you will see an array of designs that someone, somewhere, at some point thought were great, but which don’t show a clear story and/or are extremely difficult to navigate/look at.

Technically, any visualisation of data is data viz, but there is certainly an argument that any visualisation that is just as bamboozling as the raw data, is less ‘viz’ and more just data. And we need the ‘viz’ guys, it’s the second best part. 

So, if you’re wondering why you’re yet to see a pretty picture in an article titled ‘What is Data Visualisation?’, you are correct to wonder. I definitely should have included some sort of image by now. To remedy that, I’ve gone through a couple of Aira’s own digital PR and content marketing campaigns and dissected them a little to show how data viz can help communicate cool stories and make data more readable and relatable...

Millionaires per Square Mile

This particular campaign is a really good example of taking some big numbers and giving them a bit more context and impact. 

The raw data (gathered by Knight Frank) had the number of millionaire residents in some of the world’s biggest cities. Now, the figures on their own were pretty impressive, with London having over 350,000 millionaire residents, New York almost 340,000 and Hong Kong over 227,000. It would have been really easily to simply show these in a simple bar graph (which would have definitely worked). However, I thought it would be more impactful to explore the likelihood of bumping into a millionaire. So, by pulling the size of each city and dividing the number of millionaires per square mile, I was able to show each city’s millionaire density. 

This city size addition changed up the whole dataset, giving the piece a totally new angle. Seeing all of those little millionaire dots in some of the most recognisable cities in the world is pretty cool and definitely more impactful than a bar graph.

By adding the interactive sort-by buttons at the top of the piece, users also have some control over how they view the data, giving them the option to see the cities with the most/least millionaires in total and the ones with the highest/lowest millionaire density. The overall styling is pretty sweet too.

World Heritage Sites

This campaign is a great example of aesthetically pleasing data viz (IMO). The user can easily hover over the world’s most endangered heritage sites and see the factors affecting them.

The images in the centre of the radial bar graph are eye catching and the colours are complementary. The main drawback of this visual however, and the reason I’m talking about it, 

Now don’t get me wrong, UX on mobile for this piece is good. The data is still clear and easily readable, the images and the colours are still nice. It works. But when we initially designed it, we started with desktop first. We spent most of our time working out how to make it pretty on a bigger screen and the mobile design was more of an afterthought. 

Basically, it’s really easy to get caught up in the desktop design, sitting with a digital artist or designer, looking at an expensive retina desktop display and filling all the lovely space with fun graphics and big graphs, but the reality is that a lot of your users won’t even see that. Sad, but true. 

So, design for mobile first. 

So there you go. Hopefully you have a better idea of what data viz is now, but if not, here are some data visualisation examples that we wrote about recently. And here’s a piece that explains how to visualise data for a successful digital PR campaign

For more info about how to make the best use of data viz feel free to hit us up on Twitter, or get in touch for a chat. 

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