The beginning of May has been littered with important days. Star Wars day (May the 4th be with you) led us into Motörhead day (if this has you scratching your head I urge you to immediately play their seminal track The Ace Of Spades at excessive volumes, replacing the words in the title with The Eighth Of May and then come back and we’ll carry on).

I even marked my own one-year work anniversary at Synergy.

Lightsabers, heavy metal and personal plugging aside, there was also the small matter of the election to consider. As a non-SA citizen my thumb remains blemish free, but while everyone else was out making their mark I turned my attention to a question I get asked quite a lot, namely “How can I get better at building dashboards and other visuals?”

And so, without further ado, here are my top five tips for building better visuals.    


Image by Gerd Altmann, compliments of Pixaby,

1. Take data out of the equation

I will admit, having data is reasonably important when it comes to building any kind of data visualization, however the kind of data you use can be a big factor when learning a new tool or sharpening your skills. By using a dataset you know and understand (I use my personal running data all the time) you take data out of the equation and allow your brain to focus on mastering the tool, technique or feature of interest. Your learning curve will be shallower and you’ll have a lot more fun.

Remember, anything you learn can be applied to “real” data later.      

Image compliments of Pixaby2.  Beg, borrow and steal.

Data is everywhere and so are ideas. Most major toolsets have active user communities full of amazing visuals, techniques and tips – so why reinvent the wheel? Be inspired by the experts out there and use their knowledge to improve your own – and better still, let them know that their ideas have helped you. Get your own ideas out there and be willing to share – you’ll paint better pictures and be a better person for it.      

Image by Mohamed Hassan, compliments of Pixaby3.  Practice

There is no substitute or shortcut for being willing to put in the hours. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training, you wouldn’t perform on a stage without rehearsing and you shouldn’t attempt to stand up in front of a room full of people and tell a coherent data story without practicing. It’s easy to think that a skill you learned six months ago is still firmly at your fingertips but I guarantee that without practice it won’t be.

And if you remain unconvinced try teaching it to a friend or colleague…      

Image by Gerd Altmann, compliments of Pixaby.4.  Seek feedback

Getting honest, constructive feedback is something to embrace and seek out, not shy away from. Make friends with like-minded individuals. Join a user community (if you can’t find one, create one!) Read and comment on blogs like this one.

And don’t just seek feedback, give feedback…but always remember to be constructive.     

Image by Sasin Tipchai, compliments of Pixaby5.  Have FUN

That’s an order. You’re going to spend hours iterating through solutions, agonizing over font selections and contemplating colour choices, so you may as well have fun doing it. Bluntly, if you can’t have fun making pretty pictures out of data, giving people insights and positively contributing to the field of data visualization then you should probably try a different career.

I hear politics is a real barrel of laughs this time of year.    

Thanks to all of you who subscribe to my manifesto by signing up for the blog. It’s a tricky thing to establish an approval rating however so if you’ve got any constructive comments, I’d love to hear from you.

And for all things data – Vote Synergy!    

Connect with us!

Post written by Nik Eveleigh, Principal BI Consultant, Synergy.

Other articles in this series:

Making Healthy Data Choices – published September 2018  
A helping hand(le) for your data – published October 2018  
All roads (eventually) lead to data – published November 2018  
The 12 Vizzies of Christmas – published December 2018  
Don’t sweat the small stuff – published January 2019  
The Devil is (sometimes) in the Detail – published February 2019  
Using Data Literacy to Trump fake news – published March 2019  

Subscribe to our Monthly Blog