Humans are visual creatures. In fact, of all the information transmitted to our brains, 90% is visual. Our brains process images 60,000 times faster than text, and we can recall images better than we can recall words, too: studies have found that humans can remember more than 2,000 pictures over several days with 90% accuracy, which is far better than our ability to remember words.
One study tested our ability to recall images better than words. In the study, three groups of economists were asked a question on a particular data set. All three groups were asked the same question. The results were jaw-dropping:
- In the group given both the data and a standard statistical analysis of the data, 72% reached an incorrect answer
- In a group given data, a statistical analysis and a graph, 61% reached an incorrect answer
- But in a group given only the graph – the visualisation of the data - only 3% reached the incorrect answer.
The group found it far easier and had far greater success when they were shown just the visual. When we’re trying to interrogate and interpret reams and reams of data, the ability to visualize is invaluable. It’s the difference between intense, resource-heavy work which is hard to interpret and understand, and the ability to swiftly, accurately view, comprehend and remember information.
The more data we have access to, the more relevant this becomes. Big data has become super-sized data as our transactions, interactions and reactions are monitored, measured and marketed. Take Wal-Mart, for example, whose customers’ transactions give the company around 2.5 petabytes of data every hour. To put this into perspective, 1 petabyte is the equivalent of storing over 4000 digital photos every day of your life.
Adopting data visualisation helps businesses overcome these issues. It offers clarity and insight, making your data work harder, and transforming it from information to intelligence to insight.
Data visualisation brings your data to life, and has the potential to transform your business. Here’s how:
1. Simplify your data: think of maths lessons at school, where you had to transfer data into a venn diagram or pie chart so you could interpret and understand it. It’s far easier to make sense of the information to hand and detect patterns or trends when it’s in graphical format. Visualisation removes the mystery from data, dragging it out of the IT silo and making it relevant and usable across the organisation. Think of the popularity of infographics – classic examples of data visualisation. This Game of Thrones themed infographic from the Washington Post would be complex if you just looked at the statistics, but in visual format, it’s easy to understand and creates impact.
2. Understand the ‘where?’– location data weaves in an extra layer of insight to a profile or a business. Uploading data into mapping software allows you to actually see the information you have, on a map: if you’re a retailer exploring new markets, for example, it gives you the chance to identify nearby points of interest and areas with high or low footfall – nearby railway stations, for example.
3. See connections between data – when you can see the data in front of you in a visual format, it becomes easier to uncover the way it’s connected and interlinked. You can also demonstrate context as data becomes relatable: visual comparisons of data can be incredibly powerful. Another incredible infographic from the Washington Post even uses its size to demonstrate the scale of the problem – in this instance, the search for missing Malaysian Airlines plane.
4. Forecast demand - forecasting becomes simpler and more accurate with data visualisation. Now you can see the data in front of you, are there patterns you might not have noticed – spikes in sales at certain times of the year, for example, or during certain weather conditions? The planning process is enhanced as plans are built on data.
5. Solve problems faster – visualisation means you can identify and plot pain points for your organisation swiftly and effectively, and identify remedies. Government organisations can quickly view congestion patterns in traffic modelling and take action, for example.
6. Generate social engagement – sharing a visual representation of data generated by your business, perhaps across social media networks, demonstrates transparency and authenticity. Maybe you can create a map showing where New Yorkers choose to go on vacation, for example, or showing which neighbourhoods have the toughest commutes to the city. You can even make it interactive. It’s shareable, and a little nerdy – but in a great way.
7. Drive revenue: with information in visual format, monetising data becomes possible. It’s easier to strategise on how your businesses can identify new business opportunities, create new revenue streams and deepen your relationship with your customers.
8. Improve your customer experience: making data available to customers in a graphical form educates, informs and improves their experience. Have you ever looked up a store, theatre or leisure centre on Google, and noticed the ‘Plan your visit’ graph? It shows you the most popular times in an easy-to-understand format, so you can plan your visit and avoid the busiest times. And presenting data in a digestible way empowers customer-facing teams, as they broaden their understanding of issues and can deliver the information customers require.
9. Improve your relationship with stakeholders and drive collaboration: by presenting them with facts in graphical form, your data is more likely to be viewed, understood and discussed by your stakeholders than if you’d emailed them lots of spreadsheets. This drives a more collaborative approach and enables knowledge-sharing.
10. Enable data-driven decision-making: In one study, 58% of businesses said that at least half their business decisions were based on ‘gut feel’ or experience rather than on data6. Adopting data visualisation techniques improves accuracy as decision-making is based on fact, not on assumptions or on past results.
Visualisation shines a light across your data, illuminating and transforming it into invaluable information which will power your business.
Andy Berry, VP EMEA Software Solutions at Pitney Bowes
Image Credit: Pitney Bowes Software