Consider a scenario I have witnessed a few too many times –
You spend hours or days producing maps, graphs or data visuals for a meeting or presentation. You double and triple check the data, get it sourced, plot it out and make it look pretty.
You are certain that the insight and story in the visual will make a long lasting point.
You are probably right.
But how many times have you produced a visualization that has led to an immediate question like? – “yep that’s cool but what about X” or “does this take into account Y”.
Unexpected questions stop you in your tracks and force you to scramble and adjust the presentation to find the answer. All while in your head you are thinking – “but just look at the pretty picture!”
The more that I create maps or any other visuals with data, the more I come up against this same challenge.
The reality is most people are consuming your visuals from their perspective. They have specific questions and if they don’t see the answers they will go looking.
Data visualizations are not an end game – they are a conversation and inspiration starter and you have to be ready to answer every question that comes with them.
Here are 3 tips to make sure you stay one step ahead
1) Get interactive
If your visualizations are interactive then answering tough questions should be easy.
Of course I am biased in this regard but maps are an excellent interactive medium.
I’ve seen mapping software respond to dynamic questions and serve up visual answers time and time again.
Maps are a simple form of interactive visualizations but their universal appeal and understanding means everyone is on the same page from the get go.
Of course there are plenty of other interactive mediums like network maps – Live Plasma being a recent favourite.
These kind of interactive visuals allow you to answer question after question and dig down until you’re satisfied.
2) Encourage friends or colleagues to play with your visualization before you finish
Here at eSpatial we use mapping software to create data visualizations every day. We do it for our customers, for our partners and to analyze our own data. But even mapping experts make mistakes.
We find the easiest way to pre-empt difficult questions is to get someone to play around with the map or even try to break it. It can be a colleague, a family member or your really smart dog!
The point is that when creating representations of our data, we often suffer from analysis paralysis or get too absorbed in the aesthetics. This can lead you to miss obvious holes or errors hidden in the data.
Even though it’s tempting to keep your amazing projects to yourself, it’s probably best to get the once over before the big unveiling.
3) Always have the raw data on hand
No matter what you think there will always be some data scientist or stat fanatic hiding in your meeting or presentation.
That person may be on a mission to discredit your methodology, question your figures or remind you that correlation is not causation.
The simple solution is of course to make sure you do your research but just in case – always have some cold hard stats on hand to respond to the inevitable data nerd. Even if it just means giving them the file.
Data visualization has become a hot topic and companies are scrambling to put it to good use. However, data visualization is not always an end solution – oftentimes it’s just a sign post on the road to understanding.
For eSpatial and our customers, mapping software has become one such visualization asset but we always remind people that pretty maps lead to difficult questions. You need to have analytics and tools to dig a little deeper and respond dynamically.