Only a short time ago, the ability to create and understand data visualization was seen as a useful but by no means necessary skill to have. It was mainly used and valued by managers who understood the benefits of smart visualization. In recent times, that ideology has changed. Visualization is now seen as a must-use tool by all managers in all types of industries due to the vast amount of data available.
Although data is the primary driving force behind the rapid growth in the use of visualization, the need for quicker and more informed decisions also plays a part. The inability to clearly comprehend information in large volumes can be solved simply through the use of visualization. Furthermore, even information that is not based on facts and figures now demands visual expression; for example, the way in which customers move through a shop is difficult to understand let alone improve if you can’t see it first.
The Harvard Business Review (2016) insists that for visualization to be successful one must keep the bigger picture in mind. Converting a spreadsheet into a chart is not what visualization is all about. Visualization should be used to project the idea that you’re showing off a reflection of human activity; things employees did to make the line on the chart go up and down. For this reason, managers should avoid using visualization as a form of just showing results.
Conceptual and data-driven information are the two main types of information visualization is used to display. Conceptual information focuses on an idea, with the intention of simplifying information or teaching others through visualization. On the other hand, data-driven information focuses on the statistical side of business, with the intention of informing or enlightening others through visualization.
Visualization is used by managers for one of two reasons; either to declare or explore a certain idea. Declarative ideas focus on documenting and designing with the aim of affirming information. Furthermore, exploratory ideas focus on prototyping and interacting with the aim of confirming and discovering certain results. Nine times out of ten managers are declaring ideas rather than exploring them but this does not mean visualization is not a smart way of explorative development. Often explorative visualization is followed up by declarative visualization, this is once a hypothesis has been confirmed or rejected and a conclusion has been formed.
But Why the Sudden Growth in the Use of Visualization?
Quite simply the exceptional amount of data created nowadays compared to previous years calls for a new form of understanding. Everyday 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is created; this means over 90% of all the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. Managers have had to adapt to the times and move forward with their methods of communication within their business. It is not humanly possible to understand these quantities of data without a layer of abstract in the form of visualization. To sum up quite simply with a saying attributed to Peter Drucker and Edward Deming:
can’t manage what you don’t measur