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Data Visualizations Get to Meaningful Insights Faster

July 15, 2022 (3 min read)
Visualizations help you glean insight from data faster

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”  This saying has survived the test of time for a reason. Images were, after all, the first way that people preserved their experiences for future generations. Neanderthals created the earliest cave paintings approximately 64,000 years ago. But the evolution of humans and technology hasn’t reduced the importance of visuals to tell a story. If anything, the ongoing explosion of data in the digital age has cemented the importance of data visualizations.

Make a memorable impact with data visualization

Education consultant Dr. Lynell Burmark writes, “Unless our words, concepts, ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain, and go out the other ear.  Words are processed by our short-term memory where we can only retain about seven bits of information … Images, on the other hand, go directly into long-term memory where they are indelibly etched.”  

Research supports Dr. Burmark’s words. For example, only 10 to 20% of written or spoken information is retained after three days, whereas visual information improves retention to nearly 65%. That’s an important consideration when it comes to sharing data across your organization. You work hard to unlock insights from data. Do you really want to share it in a way that will be here today and gone tomorrow.

Retention isn’t the only reason to use data visualizations. Our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than text, so use of data visualizations accelerates the time to insight. Consider this simple comparison:

Object made of two long horizontal lines connected by two shorter vertical lines and filled with red.

You saw the red rectangle and understood what it was instantly, right? Processing the description on the right took longer, and the description is certainly less memorable too.

Types of Data Visualizations to Consider

Data is available at volumes that are impossible to process quickly through brain power alone, so using data visualization transforms how you discover and make sense of big data. Github offers a useful interactive infographic (another way to say data visualization) that displays different types of data visualizations and their uses. Here’s a quick breakdown of potential data visualization purposes:

  • Deviation – Diverging bar charts, spine charts
  • Correlation – Scatterplots, heatmaps
  • Change v Time – Line charts, seismograms
  • Ranking – Bar charts, column charts
  • Distribution – Histograms, dot plots
  • Part to whole – Pie charts, tree maps
  • Magnitude – Proportional symbols, pictograms
  • Spatial – Equalized cartograms, contour maps
  • Flow – Sankeys, waterfalls

The type of data visualization you should choose depends on your use case.

3 Ways Data Visualizations Deliver Value

How does using data visualizations like those above transform data into the types of insights your business needs?

  1. Improved pattern recognition: Looking for patterns is human nature. But with huge volumes of data, finding patterns is more challenging. Data visualization tools remove the heavy lifting. Consider a simple spreadsheet. Whether it has 100 lines or 1000, finding patterns in tabular data requires a lot of time and effort. Creating a chart lets you see patterns and trends more easily.
  2. Faster time to insight: Visuals don’t just make data easier to remember, they make it easier to separate what matters from the noise of big data, especially when you’re creating visualizations in real time. You can change parameters, like adjusting a time range, to quickly re-visualize the data.
  3. Makes big data more accessible for all: Not everyone has the skills or inclination to sit down with a pile of data and filter through it to find answers. Data visualizations allow for collaboration across your organization, driving insights from consolidated data.

When thoughtfully used, data visualizations help you tell a more compelling story, with important context, so users across your business can get the big picture, absorb meaningful details, and use those insights to inform decisions. As MIT Sloan lecturer Miro Kazakoff notes, “If you want people to make the right decisions with data, you have to get in their head in a way they understand. Throughout human history, the way to do that has been with stories.”  

Preferably, with pictures, so that the data stories you tell will stick in your colleagues’ and C-suite’s’ minds. LexisNexis can help with both. Not only do we have an unmatched data universe for tapping into business-critical information, but we offer solutions for academic and business research, as well as media intelligence and due diligence—all of which use data visualization tools to help you discover actionable insights, faster.