Data visualization hierarchy of needsIs it possible to create a “data visualization hierarchy of needs” like Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs? I’ve tried that in the pyramid above. Here are the details:

  • Is it the right Medium? A chart can really help processing data and minimize information overload, but what about “chart overload”? Don’t make a chart if you don’t need one, and make sure that a chart is the best vehicle for your message.
  • Answer a Question: Let’s assume that you do need a chart. A chart is (should be…) a visual answer to a very specific question. What is the question? Try to use is as the chart title: does the chart still make sense? Make sure you chose the right data to answer the question.
  • Present the Data accurately: A chart is a visual translation of an underlying data table. This translation shouldn’t distort proportions and relationships between data points.
  • Emphasize the Patterns: The whole point of presenting the data visually is to take advantage of our built-in pattern detectors, but you must help them. Choose the right chart type. Don’t display the data randomly. For example, don’t sort a categorical variable alphabetically (that’s almost random). The sorting key should be the data itself.
  • Establish Priorities: Create layers of reading. Grid lines are less important than the data, so they should be grayed out. Some series are leading actors, other series provide context.
  • Multiply Perspectives: Add detail, create multiple views of the same dataset, add interaction.
  • Grab Attention: Add color, make your chart aesthetically pleasing.

What do you think? Am I missing something? What would you change? Add your comments below.