Once you begin creating data visualizations, you will find that it is very easy to spend many hours crafting what you think are beautiful visualizations.  You add actions and filters on your dashboards, making them so flexible they can answer 20 questions!  When you finish your work, you feel very proud.  Then you deliver your visualizations to your staff and get a bunch of blank stares. They don’t understand the story behind your beautiful dashboards that you spent hours creating.

Often, our first instinct is to train the them so they understand how to use your dashboards. The problem with that method is that in three months, if they haven’t been using the dashboards much, then all that training will be forgotten. They won’t remember how to use your dashboards to their full potential.


Developing data visualizations rather than static reports gives you so much freedom to create an interactive experience that it is possible to over-complicate the visualizations. We get so excited that we can do all these new things that we don’t always stop to think if we should. I want to walk you through a few tips that can make the experience better for your associations leaders and staff.

  • White space is not to be feared. Your visualizations should not be like a teenage girl’s bedroom wall, where there are One Direction posters plastered over every single available wall space. Your eye does not know where to focus when there is a lot crammed on your visualizations.
  • Know the questions you are trying to answer. If you do not have clear guidance on what your staff needs, it is difficult to create cohesive data visualizations.
  • Review your visualizations with a single business user first. Use someone as your guinea pig, and if at any point they use the words huh, oh I see, or “what was that again?” you know you need to make some changes.
  • Use terms familiar with your users. If you have field names like b26_cst_org_name, no one besides you will have any idea what you are talking about.
  • Coco Chanel once said “Once you’ve dressed, and before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.” The same concept should apply to your visualizations.  Before you show off your visualizations, think about what you could remove that would not impact the integrity of your visualization. Oversimplified is better than over-complicated.

Data visualizations can and should be a powerful asset to any organization, but powerful does not always mean complex.  Make sure you create them with the end user in mind — relatively simple visualizations that can be understood and widely used will have the greatest impact on your association.