CHARTING THE CHARTISTS: A 2016 SURVEY OF DATA VISUALIZATION PROFESSIONALS

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Over several decades, numerous studies have been conducted on data visualization practices, including a nice collection of fresh research being conducted in academia and the commercial world today. By data visualization, I mean any visual depiction of data, such as charts and graphs, maps, interactive data experiences and even more esoteric data displays that verge on the territory of art.

Most of this research has focused on the study of visual perception (how humans process and understand what we see) and best practices in data visualization– what does and does not work in creating visuals that connect, inform and inspire viewers to take action.

But there has been no research into the practitioners doing the work themselves:

  • Who does data visualization?
  • In what kinds of organizations and what departments within them, do these professionals work?
  • What kinds of data visualization are they doing, and for what purpose?
  • Is their work having an impact, and if so what kinds?
  • Why are some of these people having more impact than others – i.e., what makes some more successful at their work than others?

These questions are being (or soon will be) asked at organizations everywhere as this field grows and matures.

I conducted a survey to shed light on these questions, which revealed four key findings.

Key Findings

  1. Practitioners are using an incredibly large array of tools to do their work, while some market leaders are beginning to emerge.
  2. “Increasing understanding” is the primary goal of data visualization but after that, the opinions vary.
  3. Good data and trained staff are the keys to success, while “figuring out the story” in the data remains a critical challenge for many.
  4. Those who are measuring their outcomes expect spending on visualization to increase, with nearly one in five expecting significant growth.

Leaders vs Laggards

One of the most interesting ways to evaluate survey data is to compare “leaders” in some activity (data visualization, in this case) with “laggards.” What do those who are setting the trends and having greater impact in their organizations doing differently than those with less impact? In this survey, two questions helped us separate the leaders from the laggards.

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Respondents were asked: “How good a job is your organization doing visualizing data overall?” The answers available were on a five-point Likert Scale from “Very Poorly” to “Very Well”. This question, while certainly not scientific proof of “leadership” or “lagging behind”, can be used to gauge an organization’s confidence in its performance (or lack thereof). Respondents also answered “If you are measuring outcomes, are you seeing a ROI (return on investment) (financial or otherwise) on your visualization projects?” This question also offered a Likert scale from “Very positive” to “Very negative”. As one might expect, 75% of the PROI group are also in the Confident group.

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Survey Details

Read a full break-down of the data visualization practitioners survey results, including interactive charts where you can see how everyone responded, or look at the Confident vs Unsure as well as those achieving Positive ROI and those who are not.

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