Data has taken the front seat in nearly every sector of business, helping to fuel decisions and drive innovation. As a result of this data boom, organizations can easily collect vast amounts of data, but making sense of that information is another story. One of the most effective ways to comprehend and leverage data is through visualization.

What is data visualization, and why is it important? We spoke with Douglas Pruim, PhD, clinical assistant professor of management at Purdue University, about the importance of data visualization.

What Is Data Visualization?

On a basic level, Pruim defines data visualization as a visual representation of quantitative material through graphs, tables, charts and similar mediums. Showcasing data in this way can make an unwieldy volume of data easier to understand and act upon. It is also, Pruim explains, about transforming raw data into meaningful information.

Pruim points out that data visualization allows us to “instinctively and intuitively see the relationships between numbers.” This intuitive understanding is what makes data visualization such a powerful tool, especially since in many professional spaces raw data isn’t truly valuable unless it’s turned into actionable insights. But understanding the data is just part of the equation; the real star is data storytelling.

Data Visualization and the Power of Data Storytelling

This relationship between data visualization and storytelling is symbiotic. “You can’t really do data storytelling without data visualization or data analysis,” Pruim explains. “It’s a progression from data analysis to visualization and then to storytelling.” He likens it to the importance of content and delivery in communication — there’s what you want to talk about and how you want to say it.

To understand why data storytelling is powerful, it’s important to reflect on our natural inclination toward stories. Pruim explains that we think in stories; they are how we interact with the world. “For example, if I asked you about your morning,” he says, “you would tell me a story about your morning.” In this way, stories are relatable and shareable and can have an impact on an emotional level in somebody’s life.

And don’t be fooled by the fact that “data storytelling” has become a bit of a buzzword. Our world is flooded with data, but that’s not enough to have an impact. Pruim explains that we need ways to “sift through this information, but also a way to focus people’s attention on what is important.” This need is why data storytelling isn’t a trend, but rather a skill that’s poised to grow in importance.

Role of Technology in Enhancing Data Visualization

As the importance of data visualization and storytelling grows, so does the role of technology in enhancing these processes. Pruim emphasizes that while the foundational principles of data visualization remain consistent, the tools and platforms available for creating these visualizations are rapidly evolving.

Data visualization tools like Tableau and Power BI offer more than just basic charting capabilities. They provide dynamic, interactive and real-time visualizations that can adapt to the ever-changing data landscape. These tools allow for more complex visual representations, enabling users to dive deeper and uncover insights that might have been overlooked. In turn, data professionals can use that information to paint more detailed and compelling pictures.

The Growing Need for Data Communication Skills

In the business world, the ability to communicate effectively is paramount. Pruim shares a poignant observation: “You can have all the great ideas in the world and all these skills, but if you can’t share them, what good are they to you?”

The ability to communicate through data can impact which ideas are moved forward and which projects are funded. This highlights the need for professionals who have the ability to not only analyze data but to effectively communicate that data.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of data scientists will grow 35% from 2022 to 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations. This underscores the appetite for data and the need for professionals who are capable of analyzing and communicating that data in meaningful ways. Those with the right education and skills are poised to play a significant role in shaping the future of many areas of business and innovation.

Earn an Online MBA With Purdue University

As we continue to navigate an ever-evolving world of data, the ability to understand and communicate this data will remain invaluable. For those interested in being a part of the story as a data professional or learning how to leverage data visualization and storytelling in their work, education is key.

The Purdue Online MBA with a specialization in business analytics teaches students advanced business principles with an in-depth focus on data analytics. Reach out today to learn more about the Purdue Online MBA program and how it can help you reach your career goals.