10 basic data visualization tips all designers should follow

Published July 30, 2014   |   

Data visualization is the graphical representation of data. It provides an easy way to understand trends, outliers, and patterns in data by using visual elements like charts, graphs, and maps. It is an effective tool to communicate. But to realize their potential, designers should follow these tips to help readers decode their visualizations.

Basic data visualization tips

1. Keep it simple!
This is the golden rule. Always choose the simplest way to convey your information.
2. Have a specific message you want to communicate
Identify the relationships and patterns of your data and focus on what you want to show.
3. Select the right chart form
Select the right chart and know its strengths and limits. Here are some common chart forms: Bar charts, Pie Charts, Scatter Plots, Node-link Diagrams, Line graphs and Word Clouds.
4. Use compelling headlines and decks to describe the take-away message of the visualization.
a.  Include a compelling headline to orient the viewer and communicate the main focus of the visualization. Do not capitalize all letters or make them bold.
b. Label the axes. Labels should always be printed horizontally to make them easier to read.
c. Use decks to describe what is depicted and to avoid any potential misinterpretation.
d. Provide source information to establish credibility.
5. Maximize the data-ink ratio (Edward Tufte)
Show the data above everything else. Eliminate all extra ink that does not show the data. Exclude redundant information, including background colour, borders, and grids.
6. Avoid using special effects, such as 3D graphics.
The perspective added in 3D graphics distorts the data and makes it difficult to interpret accurately.
7. Add hierarchy to your data
Avoid cherry-picking data, but do not treat all data equally. Data should have an order of importance. This hierarchy can be communicated through the use of design choices (as indicated in tip 8).
8. Use colour, size, and position to help the reader see what is important.
Colour adds emphasis, highlights particular data points, and draws connections between graphs. The hue, value, and intensity of the colour are significant and may have cultural or social connotations.
Size and position draw attention to particular data points and show hierarchy. The top of charts and larger objects tend to draw the eye first. Cultural reading conventions also determine how people read charts.
Colour contrast can attract the eye and draw attention to particular data points. Place the largest slices in a pie chart at the top because the eye is naturally drawn there first.
9. Find the models you like and use them in your designs, or adapt them to fit your needs.
10. Revise and edit.
The more you design, the more you learn. It is important to give yourself time to design and to revise and edit, over and over again.