Data Visualization: Making Data Pretty


Data is not always fun.

Perhaps for some of us it is – those of us who revel in facts and figures. There are definitely people out there who spend weekends crunching numbers just for the sheer joy and exhilaration of it, but I have to believe they are in the minority.

For the rest of us, it can be daunting to approach our data. How can we present it in such a way that it makes sense to and resonates with the people who need said information? In short, how can we make numbers pretty?

Data visualization is a complex and involved practice; let’s take a quick look into how to make data more palatable.

Get colorful: Take a look at color psychology to determine what colors you’ll use to convey your information. A few useful tidbits:

-Studies show that women prefer blue, purple, and green to orange, grey, or brown.

-These same studies show that men prefer blue, green, and black to orange, purple, or brown.

-Blue, as the most universally “liked” color, can be used to convey loyalty, trust, or tranquility.

-Yellow is often used as a warning color – think about traffic signals and signs!

-Green reminds people of the environment and nature.

It’s easy to get caught up in color psychology; don’t get stuck over-analyzing your color palette, but do carefully consider which hues you want to use in presentations. Don’t use more than three colors, if possible, to avoid confusing your reader or viewer, and remember that readability is paramount. Make sure your colors contrast with their backgrounds and are easy to read!

Get creative: Infographics help you share numbers in a much more visual, interactive way. Using easy to identify graphics in your presentation helps your audience understand simple statements and can make dry facts and figures come to life. You can check out our detailed blog about infographics here:

Get graphic: Okay, get your mind out of the gutter! We’re talking about graphs here – charts, too. I know, exciting stuff. While they might not seem like the most thrilling ways to convey information, simple pie and bar charts can quickly and easily allow your viewer to compare and contrast numbers in a more tangible way.

Get textual: Now we’re pushing it. Let’s talk text. As always, you want to be sure your data is presented in the most readable way possible; no one wants to trip over fancy fonts and Comic Sans while attempting to understand your annual numbers. A good general rule is, if you’ll be printing something out – for a poster or a sign at an annual meeting, or to include as part of snail mail – use serif fonts, which have a little extra brushstroke on each character. If you are presenting something solely online, use sans serif fonts for better readability.

Also, remember to save your online files and email attachments as PDFs if you want to ensure consistency. Otherwise, viewers may open your file in a different version of an application – or a different application altogether – and find your data displayed in a way you didn’t intend.

With the right dose of graphics, colors, and fonts, data doesn’t have to be boring! It can even be – dare I say it – a teeny bit fun.