This 3-part series on improving data visualization was inspired first by Microsoft Excel and second by Edward Tufte. Tufte is the guru of data visualization and statistics, whose recommendations transform data into captivating information. Of course, all technical professionals use Excel, so why not start with a common tool?
Edward Tufte popularized the data-to-ink ratio. The concept involves assessing the efficiency of a chart by comparing the amount of ink (or pixels in digital formats) used to represent the actual data to the total ink used in the entire graphic. The data-to-ink ratio is a helpful way to create powerful graphics. Simultaneously, your graphics also become more accessible.
Sparklines are small charts embedded in text, tables, or other spaces. They provide a condensed visual representation of trends and variations. This technique is sometimes overlooked but can be a powerful way to incorporate data visualization into textual content. Publications across the business, finance, science, healthcare, and weather forecasting sectors use sparklines. I have seen sparklines used in Science, Nature, Harvard Business Review, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.
Graphical excellence involves creating visuals that effectively convey information, enabling viewers to grasp insights quickly and accurately. Edward Tufte first coined the phrase and cited graphical excellence as a function of substance, statistics, and design. Excel and the Data Validation function are essential for the first two aspects.
Data Visualization & Communicating with FINESSE
The I in FINESSE stands for Illustrations, which includes all types of data visualization. Data visualization is just one of seven bones in the FINESSE fishbone (cause-and-effect diagram). At the same time, data visualization is a primary place where effective communication is hindered, especially when system thinking breaks down and our graphics become more art than useful information. Are you Communicating with FINESSE?
Communicating with FINESSE is a not-for-profit community of technical professionals dedicated to being highly effective communicators and facilitators. Learn more about our publications, webinars, and workshops. Join the community for free.
JD Solomon is the author of Communicating Reliability, Risk & Resiliency to Decision Makers: How to Get Your Boss’s Boss to Understand and Facilitating with FINESSE: A Guide to Successful Business Solutions.