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What is Data Visualization and Why Is it Important?

What is Data Visualization and Why Is it Important?

Close up of a business report on digital tablet

Last Updated December 3, 2020

Data visualization revolves around a simple concept: data isn’t worth much if it doesn’t tell a story.

That is the focus of data visualization and learning that skill is important for those looking to play a bigger role in determining their organization’s strategy and its implementation.

It’s also the focus of a new course within Villanova University’s College of Professional Studies taught by Javier Leon, an expert in the field who applies data visualization to his job with Amazon Produce Network. He also holds an MBA in Marketing, Master of Science in Business Intelligence and Business Analytics, Master of Science in Food Marketing and Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification.

The Essentials of Data Visualization course teaches students how to use the tools needed to create great data visualization – with state-of-the-art software such as Qlik and Tableau – as well as the best ways to leverage those tools in order to create value in their current jobs or help them change careers. It also serves as a great first step for anyone who wants to become a data scientist or who has an interest in STEM careers.

“Students are going to learn how data visualization can help in their careers, and they are going to be exposed to different data sets to improve their skills with data visualization tools and software,” Leon said. “They will also learn the best practices to be followed when creating beautiful, actionable, performance dashboards.”

How is Data Visualization Used?

Data visualization aims to create visuals that provide actionable insights for decision makers. That includes those at the strategic, tactical and operational levels. 

Reports created by those without data visualization skills can lead to a stat-heavy presentation that may overwhelm the audience, obfuscating the very point the presenter is attempting to make. By using data visualization tools and techniques, it’s possible to create engaging presentations that drive home the main insights from a report in a memorable way.

Visual presentations tend to work better because the human brain processes visual information better than text. Citing research into the issue, the American Management Association reported that about 60% of the population are visual learners. They also noted that:

  • An overview map, one of the foundational tools of visual presentation, leads to faster decision-making by those who watch a presentation
  • Visual presentations tend to shorten meetings by as much as 24%
  • Groups using visual language experience a 21% increase in their ability to reach a consensus compared to groups who use no visuals
  • Written information is 70% more memorable when combined with visuals

These advantages make those who learn visual presentation skills an important member of project teams for organizations across all industries.

What are the Benefits of Learning About Data Visualization?

To make successful presentations, it’s critical to understand best practices about data visualization techniques, become adept at using the different tools available and understand the most relevant concepts about visual perception. 

Leon said learning these skills applies to people in all industries as data analysis has become a part of almost every competitive organization. He said data visualization “is an area of knowledge that encompasses three things: business analysis, business analytics and business intelligence. If you are really into it, it can also include data mining, forecasting and data science.”

Those who learn how to use data visualization place themselves in a position to improve their organization and their careers. By using effective visuals to tell stories, they can share new opportunities and insights with business leaders. Data visualization also can lead to organizations making changes faster in response to shifts in the market.

Creating visual dashboards supports better tracking of business initiatives and makes it easier for decision-makers to have an “at-a-glance” understanding of where things stand. As Leon said, “When you have your information, your data, in front of you, you can very easily turn it into useful information – and actionable information. And information that would also move you to action when you are looking at it.”

No matter what industry you work in, there’s a need for better reporting and understanding of your organization’s data. Through data visualization, this can be achieved in a manner that is not possible with spreadsheets, standard enterprise resource planning (ERP) or customer relationship management (CRM) reports. That includes the STEM fields, government, media, marketing, finance, education, service industries and consumer goods. 

Those who develop data visualization skills position themselves to play a key role in helping organizations choose the best path forward for future success.

PMP is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.