Data visualizations (like charts, graphs, infographics, and more) give businesses a valuable way to communicate important information at a glance, but what if your raw data is text-based? If you want a stunning visualization format to highlight important textual data points, using a word cloud can make dull data sizzle and immediately convey crucial information. What are Word Clouds? Word clouds (also known as text clouds or tag clouds) work in a simple way: the more a specific word appears in a source of textual data (such as a speech, blog post, or database), the bigger and bolder it appears in the word cloud. Here’s an example from USA Today using U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Speech 2012: As you can see, words like “American,” “jobs,” “energy” and “every” stand out since they were used more frequently in the original text. Now, compare that to the 2014 State of the Union address: You can easily see the similarities and differences between the two speeches at a glance. “America” and “Americans” are still major words, but “help,” “work,” and “new” are more prominent than in 2012. Using word clouds isn’t exclusively for creating presidential eye candy. Keep reading to discover how word clouds can benefit your business. Where Word Clouds Excel for Businesses In the right setting, word cloud visualizations are a powerful tool. Here are a few instances when word clouds excel: Finding customer pain points — and opportunities to connect. Do you collect feedback from your customers? (You should!) Analyzing your customer feedback can allow you to see what your customers like most about your business and what they like least. Pain points (such as “wait time,” “price,” or “convenience”) are very easy to identify with text clouds. Understanding how your employees feel about your company. Text cloud visualization can turn employee feedback from a pile of information you’ll read through later to an immediately valuable company feedback that positively drives company culture. Identifying new SEO terms to target. In addition to normal keyword research techniques, using a word cloud may make you aware of potential keywords to target that your site content already uses. When Word Clouds Don’t Work As mentioned, word clouds aren’t perfect for every situation. You wouldn’t use a pie chart to show company revenue growth over time, and you shouldn’t use word clouds for every application, either. Here’s when you want to avoid using a word cloud. When your data isn’t optimized for context. Simply dumping text into a word cloud generator isn’t going to give you the deep insights you want. Instead, an optimized data set (one handled by an experienced data analysis team) will give you accurate insights. When another visualization method would work better. It’s easy to think “Word Clouds are neat!” and overuse them — even when a different visualization should be used instead. You need to make sure you understand the right use case for a word cloud visualization. There are many other instances when a different visualization should be used over word clouds. (Feel free to contact one of our data analysts to learn more.) How to Make a Word Cloud As shown by their increasing popularity, making a word cloud for your website or business isn’t difficult, but there are some important considerations that need to be made so your visualization is more than just eye candy. First, you’ll want to get a valuable, text-based data set. Having an experienced analyst compile this helps to ensure your source data is actually usable. The next step is to run your data through a word cloud tool. Many businesses like and use Wordle, but there are many others you can try, too (such as Tagxedo and WordItOut). The downside to these free tools is many sites, including Wordle, automatically add all text clouds to their portfolio. This means any site visitor can see it, potentially undermining your marketing efforts. (Check your individual tool’s policies to see if your word cloud will be used in this way.) Exporting your word cloud from a free tool might take some work. Sometimes, if download as an image or PDF isn’t available, you’ll be forced to take a screenshot – a less-than-elegant solution. Here’s what to do if you really want your word cloud to be noticed: consider designing your word cloud from scratch! Does this sound like a lot for you to handle in-house? Not all companies have (or need) an in-house data analyst. Our experienced team at Boost Labs has experience working with enterprise clients such as the U.S. Census Bureau, small businesses like individual websites, and everything in-between. Contact us today for a personalized consultation.
Let’s start with a conversation about basketball before we dive into data visualization. In 1993, at age 30 and after leading the Chicago Bulls to three consecutive NBA championships, Michael Jordan (typically referred to as the best player of all time) announced his retirement from basketball to pursue a career in professional baseball. That second career lasted less than two full seasons in the minor leagues, where one of the greatest athletes of all time struggled to even be called “average.” He eventually returned to basketball and led the Bulls to three more championships. As amazing as he was, Jordan couldn’t transfer his ability into another “medium.” His years of honing his skills as a basketball player didn’t translate to baseball. His expertise in one sport did not automatically qualify him for success in another. This same principle holds true for data visualization. Too often, marketers, CEOs, data analysts and more assume that a data visualization is just a graphic with some charts on it and treat the design process as the same. This leads to poorly created visualizations, lengthy revision cycles and generally a dissatisfaction with the final product. Visual Communication through Data Visualization & Infographics Stand Apart from Graphic Design A painting, a piece of prose, a dance, a powerful concerto, or a line of poetry: Each of these is a separate and distinct medium of expression. Each invokes different reactions and emotions. Each works differently, and demands its own degree of expertise. It’s why Michael Jordan couldn’t hit a curve ball. Data visualization isn’t just an extension of graphic arts. It’s a medium that demands specific expertise. You may have that person in-house, in the form of an information designer, but many companies need to look externally for this resource. But, even with the right designer, your job is only just beginning. Good Visual Communication Design and Data Viz Start with Knowing Your Data Story Data visualizations are a unique communication medium in that they tell a complex data story visually. It’s crucial, then, that your visual communication projects start with a story. You have some information you want to share with your audience and you want it to inspire some action from them. Knowing the final objective of the visualization is so important that an experienced information designer or visualization agency won’t even begin designing until this step is accomplished. Finding that story can be difficult, especially when the impact of a data set isn’t clear. That’s where you can leverage additional resources to understand what your information actually means to people. Try these resources to help you interpret the story your data tells its target audience: Another Department in Your Company – other departments will bring their own perspective to the data and show you how it impacts the people they work with most often (prospects, existing clients, past clients, vendors, etc…) A Long-Standing Client – letting your trusted and long-standing clients look at your data and help you interpret what impact it has on them is a great way to get the general client perspective. An Experienced Data Visualization Agency – Data visualization agencies look at data every day and help companies tell the stories behind it. Use one as a resource to understand what your data can say. After you’ve decided on the story you want to tell, take a moment to be sure that your data actually backs it up. If your data doesn’t correlate, you can either find a different story or collect other data. Either solution, in the long run, is better than trying to force a visualization to represent the data in a way it doesn’t fit. Define the Audience for Your Visual Content Storytelling 101 (and thus, Marketing 101) is “know your audience.” Because data visualizations tend to tell a complex story, the more you know about the target audience, the more powerful the data visualization will be. By knowing your audience, you know how: Data should be gathered – Collecting the data that matters to the final audience the first time around saves time and money by avoiding costly re-gathering. Data should be set up for presentation – Knowing the expertise and experience of your audience allows you to know how complex the presentation can be (and how much background needs to be explained). The data visualization should be distributed – Getting your visualization in front of the right people means putting it where they’re already hanging out. Knowing your audience means that you know how to reach them. A final piece of visual content like a data visualization or infographic is often a static image – and that has led people to believe it’s just another “graphic design project”. Remember that visualization is its own communication medium, requiring a different level of expertise and different work before any lines are drawn. Get started right, and have the right members on your team, and you won’t be driving the lane when you should be swinging for the fences. If you feel you’re not getting full value from your organization’s available information, Boost Labs can help you unlock the business potential of your information through visual content marketing strategies and practical information design.
The total volume of information in the world is growing exponentially (actually, it’s doubling each year). On top of that, information is more important to marketing and business intelligence than it’s ever been. Because displaying that information in an easy-to-digest data visualization or infographic is so important, it’s crucial to have the right skillset on your visualization team. All designers handle the challenge of presenting information. Their objective is always to engage and enlighten, and often to persuade. However, not all designers are capable of presenting complicated data stories and insights in a way that is: Engaging Explanatory Easily absorbed Accurately portrayed Enter the information designer. How is an information designer different from a graphic designer? Let’s start with an analogy: Baseball pitchers and information designers have a lot in common. There are 9 men on the field for a professional baseball team at any given time, and they all have at least one thing in common: They can throw a ball fast and accurately. However, that doesn’t mean they can all pitch. There’s more to pitching than just throwing the ball hard and straight – it’s a specific talent and skillset that must be found and cultivated. The same is true of information designers. Most professional designers are skilled at using layout, color and other graphical elements to make the presentation of information attractive and readable. But, typical graphic designers tend to be concerned with generating an emotional response only in the viewer. The information designer, on the other hand, tackles different communications challenges. While an information designer’s final product must be attractive and eye-catching, their true job is to connect intellectually with emotion. That means that an information designer will place a higher priority on accuracy and ease of data consumption within an aesthetically pleasing visual context. However, engaging graphics are still a key part of their responsibility. Information designers don’t abandon the idea of having a visually compelling end-product – they simply make sure that their presentation decisions reinforce the data instead of obscuring it. What makes an information designer special? First and foremost, a good information designer needs to be a good graphic designer. The skillset required to create great data visualizations and infographics includes the same graphic design understanding and training of a traditional designer. As a general rule, an information designer is fully capable of handling the role of a traditional graphic designer. The opposite, however, cannot be said. A good information designer has additional skills that lend themselves toward understanding and presenting data. For some, these come from a background in mathematics, statistics, or research. For others, it may be business school or management training. Whatever the reason, data speaks to these people and they are able to coherently “speak data” to others. Put plainly, an information designer will be better equipped to understand the story within your data and then tell it with a data visualization. That means they can: Create the project more efficiently Notice discrepancies or other issues with the data set Offer insight into better ways to reach your objectives Work directly with analysts to find additional data points Sharing the tremendous amount of data you have is a challenge. Build your data visualization team with an information designer at its core, and you have an advantage that leads directly to an amazing final product. If you feel you’re not getting full value from your organization’s available information, Boost Labs can help you unlock the business potential of your information through visual content marketing strategies and practical information design.