When it comes to data, data visualization can tell stories from piles of numbers and statistics and bring life to facts and figures. There are numerous benefits to turning data into clever graphics and interactive dashboards, not the least of which is making better, more informed business decisions. Whether it’s data you’ve collected or publicly available information, you can paint a picture, prove a point, or present a problem.
For more simple visualizations, non-developers can choose from an array of data visualization tools and out-of-the-box programs to bring data to life—even Microsoft Excel. But for more complicated needs, it’s helpful to engage someone with experience mining complex data sets and spotting those insights that can help tell a story. A skilled data visualization expert can distill big data into powerful tools anyone in your organization can use.
Read on for what to look for in a data visualization expert.
What can data visualization pros do?
A data visualization specialist is a data analyst who is skilled at manipulating data and solving problems by transforming data into interactive information graphics called visualizations.
Their analyst expertise means they’re able to generate specific metrics, develop complex calculations or simple averages, and find key correlations in data, then bring those to life in visuals. The visualizations can be interactive—using hovers, drop-down menus, or overlays—like a dashboard, giving users the ability to be the driver and explore data to answer immediate questions.
Most importantly, they are data artists. They know the most effective method to visually interpret data to demonstrate a point or narrative—something that takes a certain intuition, skill set, and plenty of experience to do well.
Define your goals for your data
The first step in finding the best data visualization expert for you is thoroughly outlining your goals in a detailed job post. You’ll want to start with:
- A title with any relevant keywords and specifics about the work
- A description of the project
- Project scope, deliverables, and timeline
Next, include the following to help outline your expectations.
- Background information. What is your company or business? What products or services do you provide?
- Business goals and scope of the data. Explain the purpose of the visualization(s) and who/what processes in your organization you hope the visualizations will help support. What does your data look like? From where and how was it gathered?
- Explain how the data will be used. Who will the visualization be designed for, an internal team, customers, or both? What technical or data knowledge do they have, if any? What will they be using it for—sales, awareness, or marketing?
- Include your timeline and deliverables. Be sure to build in time for feedback and rounds of revision. Be specific about what file format you want the visualization delivered in, and any specific branding elements (e.g. logos, color palettes, etc.) you want to be incorporated into the design.
Keep the following top of mind
Once you’ve crafted a thorough job post explaining what you want to get from your data, you’ll want to include some insights into who you’re looking for in your data visualization partner. These are also good things to have in mind when you’re vetting potential candidates, whether it’s by reviewing portfolios or chatting in an interview.
Remember, your data visualization pro will be elbow-deep in your data—they should know what to look for and be comfortable taking the reins. We spoke with Lindsay Betzendahl, director of analytics and innovation at a large behavioral healthcare management company, to learn more.
You want someone who is intuitive about data
You want someone who’s able to stand in your shoes and think about what she would want to know from that data if she were you. They should be able to drill down below the surface of your data and find those key insights. Look for someone who will think about your initial question, then your next three questions, then make a visualization based on what they think you want to know.
Tip: The more context you can give up front, the easier this will be for a data visualization pro to navigate.
Be clear about how flexible you are with how your data is presented
Be clear about your goals for your visualization. If it’s to present clear data about where processes can be streamlined internally, it’s probably best to keep it clean and simple. If you’re trying to pitch customers on social media about the importance of your skincare product based on global data about sun exposure, you may want more creative flexibility. Check their portfolio for past work that demonstrates “thinking outside the box.” This shows they look through the data and play with it enough to find the real insights.
You want someone who will be a partner in your data project
What you don’t want is someone who will just process a bunch of your data then spit it back out without any insights. Ideally, you’ll find someone who digs into your data and can help guide you in how best to use it—both for your current project and in the future. You’ll want someone good at conceptualizing a project start to finish, anticipating next questions and future projects.
Tip: Ask for suggestions for future ways to use your data in addition to your current project. If their gears start turning with more ideas, that’s a good analyst and partner.
You want someone creative—not just an analyst
Visualization is all about bringing data to life with graphics and design, so you’ll want to find an analyst who has a good understanding of layouts, visuals, and marketing. What you’re looking for is a creative problem solver.
Be clear about any visual requirements like branded elements and degrees of interactivity. Betzendahl favors Tableau, an extremely popular data visualization and exploration tool she says is intuitive and powerful, even for non-data scientists. It provides plenty of flexibility when it comes to adding graphic elements, such as the NBA logo graphic in the example above.
Look through their portfolio and pay attention to how they’ve treated data. What chart types have they used? Is the placement intuitive? How do they use text and captions to add context and explanations?
Find someone who understands and adheres to best practices
Stretching the truth when it comes to data visualizations can get you into trouble, especially if you’re exaggerating visuals to make a claim in your favor. However, you do want someone who is willing to break the old rules when it comes to data. Beyond line graphs and pie charts, there are dynamic ways to bring data to life. Depending on your needs or industry, find someone with the skills to break rules in the right way.
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