What bad data visualization habits are you guilty of? Which ones do you promise you’ll stop doing, but never do? Despite our efforts, keeping up with best practices when it comes to data analytics and reporting can be challenging. As 2023 fast approaches, we discuss the four most impactful data visualization habits you should be making (or breaking) in the new year.
In 2023, I will…
…start sorting dimensions by dimension order (instead of by measure)
Dimension order can significantly impact the readability and interpretation of your data. Some dimensions may not have a natural order, but those that do should be sorted accordingly. The example below shows two bar charts with the same data, visualized differently. At a glance, it’s already clear that the ‘Good example’ is much easier to understand than the ‘Bad example’.
Digging deeper, we see that the ‘Bad Example’ uses the default colour scheme and dimension order. Meanwhile, the ‘Good Example’ orders the rating categories logically, and the colours are much more intuitive.
So, colours can be organised within charts to make your data storytelling clearer and more compelling. But what about the bigger (dashboard-wide) picture?
…start using consistent colouring throughout my dashboards
Beyond just using it to demonstrate order, colour is a powerful tool that is often misused or undervalued. Intentionally or not, viewers form colour associations when interpreting dashboards: If you use ‘blue’ to indicate a particular dimension or measure on a chart, for example, people might start to associate ‘blue’ with that particular dimension or measure (whether you want them to, or not!).
Thankfully, it’s easy to overcome issues associated with this tendency! Used intentionally, use of colour acts like a legend and helps to save space in a dashboard. That’s why being thoughtful and consistent with your colours is key to effective communication and clear storytelling, and a great habit to lean into for 2023, and beyond.
…stop using descriptive titles in reports (unless I really have to)
Posing titles as a question or call to action is a sure-fire way to engage your audience. Though it may be tempting to title a chart descriptively or according to the axes (e.g. “Production by Machine and Shift”), you should ask yourself – what exactly do I want my audience to take away from this report?
Using a call to action or question engages the user and points them to the most important takeaway. If, in the “Production by Machine and Shift” example, you decide you want your audience to focus on the leading machines and shifts, you could instead title it “What Machines and Shifts Produced Most Products?” or ”Machine SSM-16 and Shift 1 were the Highest Performing Machine and Shift, Respectively.”
These types of titles – those that point the audience to some aspect of the data – are sometimes referred to as explanatory headlines. Data Storyteller Brent Dykes wrote a great piece on the untapped power of explanatory headlines if you want to learn more.
…stop misleading viewers with a y-axis that starts at non-zero
This is a questionable chart habit as old as time! And that makes this a perfect resolution for the new year: stop starting your y-axis at non-zero! There may be some specific cases where it’s appropriate, but generally a non-zero y-axis is misleading. The bar charts below – which visualize the same data set – immediately demonstrate this, even at a glance. Every dashboard tells a story, but it’s important to ensure you aren’t being misleading, even if that’s not your intention.
How many of these dashboard mishaps are you guilty of? Whether you are a frequent offender or just prone to the occasional slip-up, Vizlib’s data visualization tools are designed to make upgrading your dashboards easy, for effective data analysis and actionable business intelligence insight. So if you’re looking to get your dashboards fit in the new year, check out our Demo Gallery of dazzling dashboard examples for some #inspo and take our Vizlib Health Check to assess the health of your business’s data visualizations. Here’s to your fittest (data dashboard) year yet!