Why Data Visualization is Important when Designing Experiences

Statistics displayed visually on a laptop screen

One of the main factors of good user experience is ease of use. Data visualization applies this to sets of data to make reading and interpreting information easy. It breaks down complex bits of information and formats them into a visual representation that is cleaner and easier to understand. 

As shown in the image below, the result is a key visual element that enhances a user interface and renders the information more useful. 

Before and after of text transformed into a data visualization
Birch Studio

Show, don’t tell

A block of text isn’t interesting or engaging. What can be said in a long, drawn-out paragraph, can also be conveyed through a combination of imagery and type. According to the Interaction Design Foundation, data visualizations are defined as, “the graphical display of abstract information for two purposes: sense-making (also called data analysis) and communication.” 

Breaking up the information into visual elements can make it easier to read and understand. Visual elements also create a clear hierarchy so that a user knows the order in which they’re supposed to look at the information. 

By formatting information into digestible bits, a user can easily pick out and identify important pieces of information. This reduces the mental load of a user, and places the information in front of them, rather than in their head. 

If information becomes hard to find or read, it leads to frustration on the part of the user, which leads to a negative interaction. By making the user work less to analyze the data, it improves their overall user experience.

Aesthetically pleasing

Some individuals are visual learners. Those that aren’t, still appreciate well-designed white space and an informed information hierarchy – whether they realize it or not. The visual design of information helps the user to craft a narrative of the information, and pull certain things out to be read in a certain order and under a certain guise of importance.

The data’s color, typography, and arrangement can also match the branding of a company or product. This makes the brand experience more cohesive, with everything looking intentional and part of the same system. This builds brand equity and also builds trust with the user.

“It doesn't mean that data visualization needs to look boring to be functional or extremely sophisticated to look beautiful. To convey ideas effectively, both aesthetic form and functionality need to go hand in hand, providing insights into a rather sparse and complex data set by communicating its key-aspects in a more intuitive way. Yet designers often fail to achieve a balance between form and function, creating gorgeous data visualizations which fail to serve their main purpose — to communicate information.” - Vitaly Friedman, Co-founder and Editor-In-chief of Smashing Magazine

All in one place

Various forms of data visualization techniques can be seen in dashboard interfaces, whether that be physical or digital. Think of an analog car dashboard – based on the nature of the situation where people can only spare a two-second glance down to check the time, a number of different pieces of information need to be able to be read quickly and efficiently. 

The solution to this problem is to present the information in an array of different graphs and gauges, yet the challenge is that it needs to be all in one place and highly legible. This makes a big difference as the end result is an informed driver that has all of the necessary information needed to make safer choices on the road.

Other real-world examples include institutions that deal with large amounts of data like banks or healthcare companies. They create digital dashboards so users can view and parse through their data easily and efficiently. The key to this is designing and presenting the information in a way that allows everything to be findable.

Translating data into a visual format is a skill that can be applied to many different facets of design. At its essence, data visualization is the communication of information. It makes for less frustrating, confusing, and hard-to-read text, and more quick reads and fast comprehension. 

Visualization serves to efficiently and effectively understand the presented information. It acts as a visual aid to help people synthesize data easily and efficiently, which lends itself to an overall positive user experience. 
 

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