Data Visualization Lesson from 6 Years Old

“Daddy, you have a lot of audio, not a lot of photos, a little more apps then photos, and you have free space more than the photos and apps, but not as much as the audio”. That is what my 6 years old son told me this morning. I was installing the new iOS upgrade on my iPhone and it was plugged into the computer, iTunes open on the big screen. He snuck behind me, and after looking at the screen for a few seconds, blurted out these specs. “It’s good that they have these colors at the bottom”, he added.
There you have it, I thought to myself. A data visualization lesson from a 6 year old. If Apple would have chosen to display my iPhone capacity like the table below I doubt my son would have been able to articulate what was being presented on the screen.

I often run into IT folks, database developers, engineers, and even some business users who question the need to visualize their data and prefer “raw numbers”. ”Just get me the data in table format, and I will do the rest. Who needs fancy charts or graphs, they just distract from the actual analysis and make it harder to understand the information”, is how their argument goes.
Well, I could probably walk my son through the table view and after several minutes of reasoning through the numbers in it, thinking about which is bigger and which is smaller, got to the same conclusion. But the ability to articulate the situation in a blink of an eye, is something that can only be accomplished with a picture. And it’s not just about speed, when the information is presented in a more appealing and compelling manner, the chances are it will be better adopted, used and actually serve its purpose: guide decisions and help improve processes.
So while I absolutely believe that there is room for “raw number” tables on reports and dashboards, their placement and functionality should be carefully considered. More often than not, I would suggest them to play a secondary role, acting in support of the stars of the show, the charts, graphs and other data visualizations.

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