3 Steps to Great Data Visualisations ‐ which data visualisation software should you be using?

Bryony Miles is our d3.js data viz expert. She works with Data3 to bring your data to life, developing bespoke charts and dashboards that are both insightful and beautiful.

In this blog post, Bryony shares her expertise around creating data visualisations — and the three things you need to consider.

1. Know your goal

Data visualisations are either explanatory or exploratory. Do you want to explain something to your audience or let them explore the data?

Explanatory visualisations aim to tell a story. For example – did you ever wonder how many words members of the Fellowship spoke during all 3 extended editions of Lord of the Rings? This data visualisation tells us using the explanatory approach: Who’s speaking in Middle Earth?

The exploratory approach uses charts to help us explore the data and discover insight. An example is Stockmapper — a visually dynamic map of 1800 stocks. 

Data visualisations are normally explanatory or exploratory. But you can also opt for the “Martini Glass” approach, which starts by telling a story and then allows the user to dive in further. In The Rhythm of Food, Google News Lab and Truth & Beauty use the Martini glass approach to tell a story about key food trends over the years and allow the user to explore the results.

2. Choose the right charts

Choosing the right charts is crucial. A good start is to look at your data and ask yourself a some questions:

  • Is the data over a period of time?
  • Is it ordinal (numerical) or categorical?
  • How many periods or categories are there — a few or lots?
  • Are you looking at relationships, comparisons, distribution and/or composition?

The Extreme Presentation ‘Thought Starter’ is a nice place to start when deciding on which charts to use, but talking through your individual needs will lead to your unique solution.

3 steps to great data visualisations
Chart Suggestions – A Thought Starter

3. Choose your software

Tableau and Power BI are the market leading Business Intelligence tools.  They’re easy to learn and enable you to quickly analyse data and develop insightful dashboards and charts. But there’s a third piece of software that’s making an impact — d3.js or ‘D3’.

D3 is a super flexible Javascript visualisation library. There are some initial development costs, then it’s free. Its key selling points include:

  • a wide range of charts
  • best practice examples 
  • no monthly fees
  • the ability to customise the look and feel and give your site that extra “WOW” factor.

Which data visualisation software should you be using?

3 steps to great data visualisations

CLIENT 1 uses Tableau or Power BI to analyse and clean data and generate new dashboards and reports.  The chart type, data format and layout of these reports is changing on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Flexibility is key.

VERDICT: We’d recommend sticking with Tableau and Power BI. 

CLIENT 2 discovered Tableau and Power BI, and it was a revelation. They were able to explore data in new and exciting ways and developed key dashboards and charts, which they refer to on a regular basis.

VERDICT: This client could make some real savings with D3, which will also allow them to make their dashboards work exactly as they want.

3 steps to great data visualisations

CLIENT 3 hasn’t invested in any data visualisation tools yet. They’re looking for the best solution for their company.

VERDICT: There are lots of things to consider when choosing a data viz tool. We’re here to help. We’ll look at your requirements in more detail and advise whether you’d be better off with a custom or off-the-shelf solution. 

Not sure which data viz software to use, or keen to learn more about D3? Email us at hello@data-cubed.co.uk or give us a call on 0117 25 10 100.