4 Common Fears of New Data Visualization Creators

As a beginner, it can be a bit overwhelming when you create your first data visualization (data viz for short). Tackling something new is always unsettling. Often, a lot is riding on producing a data viz that people find useful.

So how can you conquer these fears? The best way is to identify those fears so that you can avoid letting them hold you back. Here are four fears you may have as you start your first data viz.

Telling the wrong story

You've heard that data viz is about storytelling. Good data visualizations tell important stories that generate fabulous insights, right? But as you start developing your data viz, you have no idea what story you're going to tell. You can't know what the story is until you get everything assembled and put in place. So fear rears its ugly head. You wonder, "What if I don't have a story to tell? What if it's not inspiring and compelling?"

First things first. You can't tell your story until you know what the data says, and you can't know what the data says until you figure out what data you will use. You need to start at the beginning and put all the elements together. Your first step is to figure out what questions you want to answer. When you have this preparation done, you'll feel less overwhelmed and ready to make story choices.

Picking the wrong things to measure

You may think that if you choose to include the company's current key performance indicators (KPIs) in the data viz, you can't go too far wrong. That's partially true, but there's much more to it than that, and that's what concerns you. You know that the KPIs will include some of the right data, but what about all the other measures that your department cares about? And if your department (or the client) doesn't have KPIs, how should you proceed?

One way is to begin by understanding what the data viz will accomplish. Will it answer questions about how the sales force is performing? Will it try to show which territories are generating the most revenue? After you decide what the purpose of your data viz will be, try to agree on a title for it. That title likely won't be the final one. Lots of things can happen during the project's duration to change it. But at least you can see whether everyone is in agreement at the beginning about where you're headed. After you've picked the title, ask everyone to agree on the measures should be used to fulfill the promise of the title. If you get a dialogue started, you are moving forward in an intelligent way.

Alienating other stakeholders

You may be alienating other data viz stakeholders by speaking your mind. How can this be? You want to do your best for your collaborators and your company, but you find that you just don't agree with their ideas about the data viz. You wonder whether you should speak up and risk their disapproval. The answer probably is yes.

Voicing your ideas about how to proceed can make your data viz stronger. It's also important to hear what your colleagues have to say. You want to be aware if someone has a vested interest in a particular outcome. If you determine that someone does have a bias, you should speak to them about how it might affect the outcome. On the other hand, someone may have a different viewpoint that's worth considering. Either way, don't be afraid to speak your mind, and encourage others to do the same. You can be sure that your managers will voice their opinions when the data viz is presented to them. Then you'll wish that you'd considered all the angles; otherwise, you may appear to be unprepared to answer questions and may fail to demonstrate that you understand the data.

Misunderstanding the audience for your data viz

You may think that you know the audience for your data viz. If you have an internal audience, you believe that you know what the users want. You do your homework and speak to all the major stakeholders. You want to have a clear vision of users' expectations and work to understand how they intend to use the data viz.

If you have an external audience, you do your best to research who your users are and what they need. But you still have a nagging feeling that you haven't connected with all the groups who will use your data viz. This fear isn't unfounded. It's possible that you can miss speaking to someone who will use your data viz. You can rectify this problem by asking all your major stakeholders to use the data visualization for several days as a pretest. A data viz isn't set in stone; you can modify it. By pretesting, you can gain confidence that you have hit your target.

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