Visual Analysis Best Practices: A Guidebook

Visual Analysis Best Practices

A Guidebook

Simple techniques for making every visualization useful and beautiful. See preview.

You made a visualization! Congratulations: you are part of a small but growing group that’s taking advantage of the power of visualization. However, bringing your visualizations from “good” to “great” takes time, patience, attention to detail, and some basic knowledge of visual analysis best practices. Luckily, we have compiled an important list of techniques to get you started.

Updated and expanded with new insights and examples on March 19, 2014.

Start with Questions
What are you trying to say? The single most important step you can take to make a great visualization is to know what you’re trying to say. With the amount of data available today, anyone can get lost in a world of scatter plots and geocoding. It is vital that your visualization has a purpose and you are selective about what you include in your visualization to fulfill that purpose.

Choose the Right Chart Type

Once you have a purpose for your visualization in mind, it is time to think about what types of analysis will help you achieve that purpose. For example when showing trends over time, you should probably use line charts, area charts, and bar charts. In addition, you should try to put time on the X-axis and the measure on the Y-axis; that will help your view cater to our cultural conventions on trending. We also discuss suitable chart types for comparison, ranking, correlation, distribution, part-to-whole analysis and best ways to visualize geographical data.

Create Effective Views
Even if you have chosen the best chart type(s) for your analysis, effective views do not always come naturally. Simple techniques such as emphasizing the most important data, reorienting your views, organizing them in different ways, or transferring overloading views into small multiples can make your views more effective and easy to understand.

Design Holistic Dashboards
When designing a dashboard it’s important to structure it in a way that is accessible to your audience and it tells a holistic story. By going through the basics of dashboard flow, interactivity design, and sizing, we highlight some of the best practices to make your dashboard more useful and engaging.

Perfecting Your Work
Although it might seem like a small detail, the formatting of your views can change everything about them. This is the most nit-picky part of making a visualization; often the only way to succeed is through trial and error. In this section, we provide many tips on formatting to make your visualization shine.

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