Data visualisation is a centuries-old technique for presenting information in a way that is easy to understand. But in a world of exponentially-growing data volumes, effective data visualisation and user interface design is more important than ever before, to help organisations make sense of the information they have access to.
This is according to Alan Dargan, Design Lead Lecturer at the international Digital Skills Academy. As part of its advanced post graduate ICT courses, Digital Skills Academy includes modules on applied design technology, user interface design and data visualisation. “Design is more important than ever before in the software development process,” says Dargan.
“In the past, it tended to come under consideration at the end of the development process, but now it is integral to the entire process. This emphasis on user interface and design is due in part to consumer apps having raised the design bar for enterprise apps. Now, if you don’t have software people want to use, you have nothing. The growing importance of design is also due in part to the massive increases in data volumes creating a need for simple visualisation of trends and insights residing within the data.”
Dargan notes that as far back as 2015, IBM said every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data, which meant that 90% of the data in the world at that stage had been created in the previous two years. “The volumes of data in circulation grow all the time, and it’s not just structured data. There is human-generated unstructured data from social media, machine-generated data from logins, log files, GPS coordinate updates, constant streams of data from wearables and IoT devices, for example. Making this data accessible and understandable to business demands data visualisation, and this is where design comes in.”
Analysing the data and representing it in a simple visual chart or graph allows for the lightbulb moments that drive beneficial changes in business strategy.
“People have been using charts, graphs and maps to represent data for years. To make data visualisation tools truly useful for organisations today, they must also be highly interactive. They must tell the story and also allow you to drill down into the data and discover new things,” Dargan says.
“To create these effective visualisations, you need specialised design-oriented developers working within a multi-disciplinary analytics and development team. These specialists within the field of data science need to understand not just how to collate and interrogate the data, but also how to tell the story in a user-friendly way, taking into account the principles of design, colour theory and human cognition.”
With the increasing overlap between design and coding, the Digital Skills Academy includes design in its courses for project managers and developers. “Data is crucial in business today, and every business needs to be able to see the data to understand it,” he says. “In many organisations, data is still sitting in isolated pockets of spreadsheets. By bringing it together and presenting it in a way that is easily understood, you are able to derive real value from it.”