It’s your brain.
A few of the million+ decisions your software program can’t make for you:
10. Which chart is best for your data. Yes, I’m well aware of Excel’s Suggested Charts feature. No, don’t even think about it. There’s no substitute for your critical thinking skills.
9. How much ink is necessary. Will your viewers benefit from light gray grid lines, or should you remove them altogether? Ask 10 different people and you’ll get 10 different opinions. You’ll have to think yourself outta this one.
8. How many decimal places are needed. One argument is that decimal places add precision – if you’ve got decimal places, why not display them? Another argument is that our datasets are rarely complete enough, cleaned enough, or generally accurate enough to warrant giving the viewers lots of decimal places (and therefore, a false sense of precision).
7. Whether you’re going to stick with a default color scheme (please, NO) or customize your color palette to match your client’s brand identity.
(And who chose Excel 2013’s color palettes, anyway? Lime green, royal blue, and orange? But that’s an article for another day.)
6. The extent to which you’ll label your data. Do your viewers need to see every point on the line, or just the beginning and end points? Or just the highest line? Or just the lowest line?
5. Whether your chart needs to be rotated to avoid diagonal text. In this scenario the answer is yes! rotate that chart! but your software program won’t automatically do this for you. You’ll have to determine whether your data labels need some additional space, and if so, swap your vertical bar chart for a horizontal bar chart.
4. Whether your viewers need aggregated or disaggregated data. It doesn’t matter how much you paid for your software program. Your computer doesn’t know whether your viewers would benefit from a single visual that contains aggregated information or whether your viewers need to make comparisons across four different variables simultaneously through a small multiples layout. But yes! Your brain! It knows!
3. Whether your viewers will really understand that diverging stacked bar chart, or whether you should just stick to a regular old stacked bar chart.
2. Which patterns to emphasize and which patterns to hide, like whether viewers need to see all the peaks and valleys (line) or whether you need them to focus on just two points in time (slope).
1. And in case it isn’t obvious yet, your audience is pretty darn important. Your software program will never understand your audience’s numeracy level, data visualization level, interests, time limitations, or information needs as well as you.
Ready to dive in and start training your brain to think through these considerations and more? In 48 hours I’m co-leading a public data visualization workshop with THE Stephanie Evergreen in Washington, DC. Upcoming speaking engagements are listed on my calendar.
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