Can Data Visualization Tools Improve The Communication Of Market Research Findings?

Recently, I've posted a question on our Market Insight Community about data visualization. Why? Because infographics are hot. Follow the infographic (#infographic) topic on Twitter and you’ll see a constant stream of new graphics. A recent example of a market-research-related one is this one from The New York Times that shows you how many households in the US have a similar set-up. And this week I tweeted a link to an interview with a company called Tableau Software that helps organizations visualize big data and works with organizations like The Wall Street Journal and CNN Money to create interactive graphics like this one on foreclosure filings.

But what is the role of data visualization in market research? There are numerous posts and contributions about the importance of storytelling for market insights professionals. Will data visualization tools help in engaging our audience with data? Can it be our way of telling a story? David McCandless talked about the beauty of visualization last year at a TED event. Good design, he suggests, is the best way to navigate information glut — and it may just change the way we see the world.

But every time I talk to market insights professionals about this topic, they tell me how difficult it is to move beyond the obvious bar charts. And when they try something a bit more adventurous, the audience has a hard time “getting it.” So, my question is this: How useful is data visualization in a business context? Have you ever used infographics, or other new ways of presenting data, in a presentation or report? Do you feel that they make data easier to digest? In what way? And is there any software you would recommend?

I welcome your insights.


Data visualization for Market Researchers

Here are my two cents...

First: data visualization and infographics are not the same thing. Data visualization is just translating numbers into a visual format. I would leave infographics to the web and the media, they have no place in a business context.

There is much to do in data visualization for market research. Most presentations are pitiful. Best practices in data visualization are about insights, but presentations in market research are sales pitches. The client likes colorful charts and the PowerPoint effects but at the end she gets a very poor ROI from the research. We have to educate them.

Leave infographics to graphic designers. The average market researcher have no designing skills, and uses PowerPoint and Excel, and that's more than enough in a business context. If you need good references, try the books by Stephen Few or Dona W. Wong.

Tableau is a great product and I really recommend it, but it doesn't fit traditional corporate culture when it comes to serious data visualization. You have to change that first, and you can do it with Excel. Remove 3D effects, avoid pie charts, increase data density in your slides. Eventually you'll feel the need to go beyond Excel. Things that can take hours in Excel can be done in a few minutes in Tableau. That's when you should switch.

Again, data visualization and infographics is a very glamorous field right now, but try to be pragmatic but start with the basics: data analysis, data management and best practices in data visualization.

Don't overdo it.

thank you so much for your thoughtful response.
I can see why you seperate out data visualization and infographics and I like how you differentiate them. In the past, I have used infographics a couple of times to show the audience the size of certain trends compared to other events. Especially when you have to fight some common beliefs, infographics can help to give the right context.

Your advice to start with the basics is spot-on. I've set through a number of prezi presentations that were just painful to watch -- from a content perspective. New ways of visualizing the data will not take away the fact that you have to make sure you do the right analyses, present the relevant data, come up with great insights and actions, and present those in an engaging way.

But when you do get the basics right, I believe good visuals can be an interesting way to tell the story. I'd love to see more examples of this.

Visualization Tool

In the office I just started at they have a Vista Spyder to use for their presentations. I have yet to see it in a live presentation, but gather that is a video processor to help better display the presentation. I'd consider it a visualization tool, but think it may be different than the ones you're referring to. It seems more like what software to use for visualization more so than how to display the data. Although I think the display can be just as important because if you actually have a good presentation and a small screen then your clients/viewers won't be able to see and capture the full presentation. So I guess data visualization tools can be good, if used properly. Also you mentioned how you've seen prezi's that are painful to watch, is that because there is too much going on? Just curious to see what you'd recommend using instead.