What is All the Excitement about Data Visualization?

Author: Yetty Shobo
June 1, 2017

Learning by Seeing: What is All the Excitement about Data Visualization?

Yetty Shobo, Healthcare Data Workforce Center, VA Department of Health Professions

What it is not: Data visualization is not dumping a bunch of data online and expecting your audience to figure it out. It is also not making a cluster of charts with several categories using the most intricate chart or mapping option and expecting users to successfully navigate their way through the complex display of your software genius. The allure of free and very user-friendly data visualization software makes everyone imagine themselves as a Data Visualization expert, often to the dismay of their audience.

What it is: Data visualization is the pictorial or graphical presentation of data in a way that helps users internalize complex data as meaningful visual information.  When used correctly, data visualization exposes patterns and trends, and empowers users to interpret the meaning of the data. The power of data visualization allows researchers to present a variety of data- such as education; healthcare workforce; social services; rehabilitation and aging; healthcare utilization; and demographic data- in one place and to display that data in a various array of formats. The nature of today’s data visualization options supersedes print format because it is dynamic, more effective, captivating, and allows users to control the display of the information through interactive maps, tables, charts and graphs.


How best to approach it: In my case, data visualization experiences have been with aggregate level data. Most recently it’s been with data obtained from surveys of Virginia healthcare workforce professionals obtained annually or biennially. With aggregation, it is critical to consider whether the sample size at the level of aggregation still protects the privacy of respondents. As such, most of the data I present are at regional levels and are obtained by aggregating across counties. It is important to always ensure that you are providing the highest level of confidentiality and privacy to your respondents or clients. Personally, I love using Tableau Story for my visualizations as it allows related data visualizations to be presented in an interactive and intuitive format that is coherent and not overwhelming. My visualizations tell salient stories from the healthcare workforce planning arena in ways that are easily understandable and that engender public advocacy.  One recent project dealt with the aging of the healthcare workforce. The data visualizations are produced to empower policy makers and the general public to be involved in healthcare workforce planning.

With my visualizations, it is important for me to step into the shoes of my audience to anticipate the various questions they would like to answer with the data, and to use visualizations that easily expose the patterns and trends that the users seek. I don’t present all the data that I have so as not to overwhelm my users, but rather, I present those data that are most pertinent and likely to be useful to my audience as clearly and concisely as possible. Although data visualization gives great power to its creator, my admonition to you is with great power comes great responsibility. Use that power responsibly to empower and illuminate BUT not to confuse…to protect BUT not make vulnerable.

View some of my data visualization products on Tumblr.



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