Simple is better for data visualisations than complexity

In the past few weeks, my Makeover Monday entries in Tableau have been using a bar chart with sparing use of colour. It got me thinking about all the data visualisations I have published on Tableau Public (all 53 of them!) and why I take certain avenues and directions with the visualisations I produce.

If you have heard the KISS phrase before (keep it simple, sweetheart), it has never been more true in terms of my data visualisation and journalism style at the moment. Whilst I am partial to a diverging bar chart or barbell chart, the reason why I find simplicity works with my data visualisations is it makes it super accessible for someone who is not familiar to a viz and can pick up what you’re displaying in seconds.

 

I have been practising data journalism and visualisation for over two years now and whilst I have learned so much about best practices and wrangling datasets, simplicity in my vizzes has been something that I have constantly worked on for some time. I find it’s better to create something that visually looks appealing and can tell a story with impact rather than completely overcomplicate the viz with fancy charts that add no context to the visualisation or dashboard I am producing.

However, it depends on what you are trying to show with your dashboard or visualisation. I am currently reading through the Big Book of Dashboards and it has given me some points to think about when it comes to creating dashboards whilst considering the dos and don’ts about dashboard design and best practices. I still have so much to learn in Tableau and other programming software such as and SQL, but its worth it as I look for my first job within the data analytics and data visualisation fields.

There have been occasions where I have sketched a visualisation out for Makeover Monday or my own data visualisation projects and they have turned out completely different to what I was expecting in my final published viz. That’s completely okay because a visualisation is meant to be iterated until you are happy with what you have set out to do.

 

As I still find ways of implementing Tableau into my journalism work, it has helped me to recognise the importance of keeping my data visualisations simple to understand to my audience. Whilst I can do an occasional long-form dashboard, it’s always best for me to keep a visualisation simple even if it’s telling the story more effectively than using a chart that is completely irrelevant to your story.

My advice for anyone starting out in data visualisation in Tableau, R and SQL, keep it simple. When you take part in the Makeover Monday project, start with a bar chart or line chart and declutter anything that would make the visualisation unappealing to your audience. This means you have a foundation to work on when it comes to developing your dataviz skillset.

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