Chapter 18. A Spreadsheet Is Not a Data Visualization

Like the movie Groundhog Day (but without its Certified Fresh 96% score on Rotten Tomatoes) there is one conversation I find myself having over and over again in my career as a data visualization consultant. It typically goes something like this:

Excel fan: “Thanks for this—looks great. Would it be possible to take your world-class data visualization and turn it into an unreadable wall of numbers?”

(OK, the “world-class” part is an exaggeration—no one has ever said that.)

Ryan (me): “But Excel fan, look how much easier it is to gain valuable business insights more accurately and efficiently when the numbers are visualized! Isn’t that really cool?”

Excel fan: “Steven, my stakeholders are more comfortable seeing the exact numbers.”

Ryan (me): “It’s Ryan, actually. Let me just show…”

Excel fan: “Brian, please provide a text table of this information. Also, if there’s room along the bottom, please add at least one pie chart.”

At least this is how I sometimes feel the conversation goes when I’m having these discussions. I admit it can be discouraging, but mostly because I feel I have let my stakeholders down by my own failure to educate them on a better way of looking at data. It can also be encouraging, because it reminds me there is still a long way to go before best practice techniques are widely adopted and that I have a long career in data visualization ahead of me. (That means I have quite a bit of time to earn money that ...

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