Data Visualization With Tables
by Mike Poirier
It’s almost a certainty that market research reports will be filled with charts, graphs, and tables. Data is presented in these formats because it’s easier to understand when you can visualize it. However, filling a table with data, but without any thought as to what you want the reader to understand just creates confusion. Here are a couple tips on how to optimize data visualization in table formats.
I’ve seen data tables in so many different formats, it’s hard to know if there are any rules of thumb other than using column headers and listing the data below.
I used to think that every cell in the table had to have borders; that rows needed to have sharp background colors to draw your eye. Then I found my readers getting lost digging through all the data, when all I wanted was for them to get the big picture.
That is, until my colleague shared a GIF that illustrated several ways to make a data table more appealing to the eye. See it for yourself here.
The last part is what should resonate most:
“Less is more effective, attractive, and impactive.”
Properly aligning text and numbers in tables
When it comes to aligning text, most of us think to center everything in the cells, but you don’t usually read documents with text aligned to the center, do you?
No, it’s usually aligned to the left. That’s how text should appear in a table too. Your text will be much easier to read in a table when it’s aligned to the left.
What about numbers? They’re usually center-aligned more often than not.
Numbers are easier read when they’re aligned to the right, especially if you’re rank-ordering the numbers in any way.
For example, we usually rank-order event recap metrics, like samples per hour. It’s more appealing to the eye to read a list of numbers in descending order if they’re aligned to the right in a table.
Utilize colors to your advantage
Microsoft Office has several pre-formatted tables of different colors, many of which are sharp, but distract from the story the table is supposed to tell.
I don’t necessarily think that you should strip your data table of all its color, but the color(s) you choose should be soft. I prefer to alternate table rows without background color (or go white) and a soft shade of whatever color matches your presentation deck.
These few tips to improve data visualization can make all the difference in helping the reader understand what that data is supposed to highlight. If you didn’t watch the GIF above, check it out. See which of those practices you commonly do. Frankly, I was guilty of most of them.
Anyone else find it funny that Jake “the Snake” Roberts was born in the year of the snake?
Photo Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rh2ox/