Warning! Don’t be taken in by good-looking data visualization.

Posted by Jonathan Bear on December 2nd, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Have you gotten really excited by the way something (or someone!) looks from a long way away, only to move closer and have the illusion shattered?

That picturesque little cottage on the hill may look perfect, shining and white in the sunshine, with the conventional picket fence framing the front. But as you draw closer, the picket fence is not that white, with paint peeling and pails missing. The cottage itself? Rotting and dilapidated.

The move to visualizing data and results is growing by the day. Everybody (quite rightly) wants to show their results on a dashboard, a console, or a web-based portal that easily and clearly demonstrates their position, at a glance.
Demands on data visualization are growing

The scope for visualizing data is broad, and is growing broader. Organizations not only want to show sales results - they are looking to integrate financial results, customer data, advertising information, a myriad of other business intelligence (BI), social media and, increasingly, market research data.

As is the case with any growing trend, providers are coming out of the woodwork in their droves to provide organisations with solutions.

The trend started with providing sales results in a dashboard format, and has progressed to bringing in other forms of business intelligence. Consequently the providers of the solutions have been focussed in this area, and only recently have they had to also incorporate consumer research data visualization from market research.

And here is where it pays not to get too excited before you’ve had a good, hard look.
Market research data has special needs

Most BI data is very simple, if not voluminous. On the whole, it doesn’t require any special treatment to be displayed. The dashboards tend to reflect this simplicity, containing dials, and little indicative squiggles to show how things are trending. This is our little white cottage …. as it looks from the foot of the hill.

Market research data is much richer, and contains levels of complexity that is not found in BI data. The data often needs to be weighted, is survey-based and so needs statistical tests applied to indicate levels of confidence, and so on.

Traditional suppliers of dashboards and consoles struggle to incorporate these complexities when incorporating this type of information, and here is where the paint starts to peel, and the boards begin to rot.
Of course you should have high expectations of your data visualization

When organisations look at the significant investment in visualizing their data, it is vital that their solution can accommodate the types of information they want to display.

Market research is increasingly being incorporated, and organisations must be able to show it alongside their BI data in a manner that is not misleading, showing the level of statistical confidence in the results, allowing the data to be weighted, and letting users drill into the richness that the data contains.
Toss those rose-tinted glasses!

Challenge your providers to meet your requirements. Contain your excitement at the flashy dials and the colourful squiggles, until you’re up close and personal to the object of inspiration. Take a long, hard look to make sure the solution can give you what you are searching for.

And then, by all means, get excited!

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