How to Make Real-Time Data Intuitive for a Lay Audience

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Real-time data is an excellent tool for better understanding your business environment – and it allows you to monitor progress without delays or interruptions. At a glance, you can quickly see how your website is performing, how many sales you’re closing, or how your inventory levels are fluctuating.

If you’re seasoned in the realms of data analysis and data visualization, this probably comes naturally to you. But how do you make displays of real-time data more intuitive for a lay audience?

Displays and Accessibility

First, you need to think about how you’re displaying your data and how people are accessing that data. With cleaner, more convenient systems, people will have an easier time accessing the necessary information and understanding it on at least a superficial level.

Choose the right mediums. For starters, you’ll need to present your visual data using the right mediums. If you’re working with real-time data, you’ll be somewhat limited in options here; you can’t print a graph on a sheet of paper and expect it to update in real time.

However, there are many convenient and useful options you can use to present your data in real time wherever you need it to be displayed. For example, with digital signage software, you can pull in data and update your visuals in real time on a collection of different screens.

Whether you’re communicating data to employees within your workplace or to customers visiting your business, this is potentially the best option for displaying your data to a wide number of people. If you’re displaying data to a smaller group, or an individual, consider giving them a link to a dashboard where they can see data updated in real time whenever they want.

Present selectively. It’s also important to be discerning in what you present to your audience. As a data analyst, you may have access to millions of data points, hundreds of variables, and hundreds of different potential graphs to display. But if you choose to reveal all of this information to your audience, they’re instantly going to become confused and disoriented. Instead, select one or two visuals to display to your audience and focus on those.

Employ minimalism. Similarly, it’s important to avoid overwhelming your audience. When you present your data visuals, make them the centerpiece of your display, offer a clean, minimalistic image, and eliminate potential distractions that could pull their eyes away from the important pieces of the presentation.

Clear Labeling

Real-time data visuals also benefit from clear labeling. Be sure to label each axis of your graph and each component of your visual display. You should also name each relevant variable and explain what those variables are. Don’t assume that your audience is going to know every abbreviation or acronym, and don’t assume that they’ll understand what the graph is telling them at first glance. Err on the side of providing too much information, provided that information is relevant.

Dynamic Visuals

Your data visuals will be much more compelling and easier to discern if you use dynamic colors and strong contrasts to make your displays parseable. Displaying different companies or different variables in complementary colors is an easy way to accomplish this.

Guided Imagery

If you want people to intuitively understand your data, you need to seamlessly guide them to the most important elements of your visuals. If you have a bar graph or pie chart at the center of your screen, the eyes of your audience will be naturally drawn to it. 

But you may need to offer additional guidance to get them to notice which variables are in play and which ones are missing. Bold text highlighted colors, and simple directive cues like arrows can help you do this.

Supplementary Documentation

For some people, even simple graphs are somewhat difficult to understand. Accordingly, you should be prepared to offer supplementary documentation, so your audience has the option of doing further research to improve their understanding. Can you offer an index or a simple guide for how to read these charts and graphs?

Comparative Elements

It’s much easier to understand data when it’s put into proper context. If I tell you there are roughly 31 million smokers in the U.S., you can’t form many impactful conclusions unless you know things like how many total people are in the U.S., how many smokers there used to be, and what defines a “smoker” in the first place. Be sure to include comparative elements so your audience members can form better conclusions.

Providing Further Guidance

Even with all of these strategies, some of your audience members may struggle to understand your real-time data visuals. Be prepared to offer personal education and guidance to the people who need it – and never assume that everyone will understand exactly what your data is saying.