October 7, 2020

5 Smart Ways to Leverage Data Visualizations

Porter Thorndike

Topic:   Data

Last updated: October 8th, 2020

Most modern organizations have no shortage of data, but simply having access to data isn’t enough to confer a competitive advantage. Today, organizations must find ways to transform the data they have into actionable insights that can inform strategic decision-making and propel businesses forward.

Data visualizations create actionable insight

The human brain is hardwired to process visual content more easily than written detail. Using data visualizations, then, is a great way to help your audience discern the meaning in the data you share. Data visualizations can help you identify trends, predict customer patterns, and make better business decisions.

Share a spreadsheet during a meeting and lose half the room. Use eye-catching data visualizations to bring the numbers to life and you engage your audience in what the data actually reveals.

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Here are five ways to use data visualizations to create actionable insights today:

1. Start with high quality data

Remember that your data visualizations will only be as good as the data upon which they are based. Insufficient data, poor data quality, or poor data management can all impact the accuracy and effectiveness of your data visualizations and the insights your audience derives from them. Before you embark on a visualization project, ensure you are working with data you can trust.

2. Choose charts for trend identification

To help your audience identify trends in your data, the key is simplicity. Choose a data visualization that is free of clutter, such as a line graph (especially appropriate for illustrating a trend over time), a bar graph, or a column chart. Avoid any unnecessary illustrations and ornamentation and focus on the trend itself. Resist the urge to add extraneous data points.

3. Create a narrative to inform decision-making

Data storytelling is more than throwing a few stats into your text or dropping in a graphic or a chart. The data shared its story with you. Now determine how you can create data visualizations that will communicate that story with your audience. What insights are you trying to share from this data? How can you use data visualizations to highlight the most notable findings from the data for others?

4. Build maps or customer touch-points to identify patterns

Charting lets you map data to visual properties such as a geo-map. Line charts or scatterplots can track customer patterns. In these instances, the data often is tied to people. Maps are a good way to connect the numbers to the physicality of the real world.

5. Use comparisons to illustrate a point

Comparing two data points is a powerful way to throw up a red flag for a problem area or illustrate positive growth from a prior data point. In both cases, comparisons make for a very compelling message by simply stacking two data points back-to-back. But this can be more confusing if not done properly, which is why choosing the right type of data visualization can make all the difference.

Once you have chosen the data visualizations to use, go back and evaluate which design elements can be removed or added to make the representation clearer to your target audience.

Data is only useful if it is accurate and accessible. Starting with reliable, complete data and using data visualizations to translate the meaning behind the numbers will help your organization make strategic decisions. That’s where ibi can help. Every day, we help our customers turn their data into a strategic asset with our sophisticated yet user-friendly platform that organizes data intelligently.


Porter Thorndike is the director of Analytics Strategy at ibi. His roots are as the principal engineer on many large-scale, embedded analytics deployments that featured data science and data storytelling. In his current position, Porter works closely with research & development and our most innovative customers to provide thought leadership on the use of our data and analytics product.

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