An Interview With Iun Chen
Read: 4 Minutes
Data is big, and it’s getting bigger. How do you parse and understand data when the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming? The answer is data visualization. Using concepts of design theory like elements of color and layout, the discipline of data visualization, or data viz, is essentially the graphic representation of data. We called on one of our data viz experts, Iun Chen, to break it down further.
Let’s start with an introduction and how you came to the world of data viz.
IC: I’m Iun (pronounced ‘yoon’), and I work in the data analytics space focusing on business intelligence tools and building scalable resources for LinkedIn. I also teach the 10-week Intro to Data Analytics course for GA, which includes the professional skills of SQL, Tableau, and Excel.
In college, I was a business major with a specialization in marketing and advertising. I became more interested in how the ad business model worked behind the scenes and in how software and systems worked. As a result, I worked at many major media companies in a quantitative capacity — revenue planning, ad pricing, finance, ad sales strategy. That led me into a formalized analytics route.
How do you define data visualization?
IC: Data visualization is the idea of communicating information graphically. It’s the science of information design, in which you take massive amounts of data in whatever format it comes in and use it to surface high-level insights and findings in a visually compelling way so audiences can easily understand the main points.
How does data visualization differ from data analytics?
IC: Data analytics is the process of cleaning, prepping, analyzing, and presenting data. Data visualization is part of the presenting data step and is defined as the act of visually organizing data through the use of charts, graphs, and dashboards. Concepts of data visualization are closely aligned with concepts of design theory: color, font, scale, layout, organization.
Why is data viz important?
IC: Data visualization is easy to learn but hard to master. In my classes, I heavily emphasize the design element of data visualization. It’s easy to whip together a quick bar or pie chart, but is it the best way to communicate the point you are trying to make? The goal of collecting mass amounts of data is to be able to quickly translate it into insights that can help make smart business decisions. The final form of this translation is often a chart or graph, which is why the ability to design and visualize these mass amounts of data grows as we collect more of it.
What is a data narrative?
IC: People think in stories and narratives, not in black and white figures. Just like you would share a story with a friend using a beginning, middle, and endpoint, you would do the same when sharing details about data analysis. Here’s a simple example.
- Beginning: Sales are down year-over-year; identify the symptoms.
- Middle: Furniture sales — our largest segment — are doing poorly in the last six months; conduct the analysis to investigate reasons and uncover root causes.
- End: Review retail store reports and conduct manufacturer visits; recommend next steps.
The key point to any data narrative is that it should present a compelling business case and surface unrealized insights to the audience. The business challenges, rationale, and next steps should be clearly presented, and people in the room should be able to walk away and know what to action on.
Which tech roles use data visualization?
Data visualization — like data analytics — is a skill set that can be applied to any job. But if you are looking for a job that has data visualization skills as part of the function and responsibilities, look for roles like business analyst, data analyst, business intelligence analyst, data scientist, and data engineer. Keep in mind that the formal skill of data visualization is still relatively new, so depending on the maturity of the company, those functions may not be fully established yet. However, with the increase of data in the world, there’s a growing need for experts who understand data visualization techniques more and more.
Check out this Medium post which details how Spotify’s business has evolved with the creation of their data visualization roles.
What’s the future of data visualization?
As we continue to collect more and more data, the need for people with the skills to analyze and present data becomes ever-growing and critical in the workplace environment. More companies will need to generate insights quickly to keep up with advances and competition in their respective industries. The skill of data visualization will become more and more attractive as teams and organizations seek to translate their data into insights more efficiently and effectively. The ability to work with data is increasingly critical to the success of any company in any job function.
Iun Chen’s Recommended Data Viz Reading List
Want to learn more about Iun?