What is data visualization?
Data visualization is the visual representation of data through graphics, such as charts or animations. These visuals make complex data easier to understand.
Why data visualization is important
Data visualization helps people process large amounts of data by displaying it in a visual format the human brain can quickly comprehend.
Make sense of big data
In the age of big data, processing trillions of data points at a time isn’t unusual. Data visualization helps highlight what’s most important by removing the noise in a dataset and distilling it into a format that’s easier to understand.
Data visualization is an essential part of the data science process, which states that after data has been collected, processed, and modeled, it must be made visual for conclusions to be drawn. Without these visualizations, big data is just too massive to be immediately useful.
Find and share useful insights
Data visualization is an excellent way to find and share helpful insights. Some people use data visualization to spur idea generation or problem solve—others rely on this method to discover patterns and communicate complex data relationships.
This works because the human brain is naturally drawn to colors and patterns. For example, we can easily distinguish between red and green—or triangle and circle. Data scientists take advantage of this instinct and use it to help us recognize what’s actually important in the data.
Make informed decisions faster
Decision makers in every industry—from government and finance to consumer goods and education—rely on great data to inform their next steps. To stay ahead of the curve, decision makers need to get tangible information in a format they can understand as quickly as possible.
Data visualization helps data analysts, data scientists, and other professionals display data to decision makers in a consumable format—empowering them to move quickly from understanding to action.
Align with reality
Data visualization is visual storytelling—and a crucial step in data science. Not only does it help analysts convey data more clearly, but it also enables people to align with reality and achieve success with less mistakes.
People in every profession can benefit from data visualization. A medical professor might use it to reveal hidden causes of heart disease—or a movie analyst might use it to plot how films perform in the Bechdel Test. The insights are endless.
Bring information to life
Create diagrams that make the complex simple. Choose from dozens of pre-made templates or build your visuals from scratch.
Examples of data visualization
Inventory monitoring diagram in Microsoft Visio
Visualizations are often used by businesses to track the flow of goods. This diagram—created in Microsoft Visio and pulling live data from Power BI—compares stock and sales data for a retailer and displays it directly on images of individual clothing racks. This makes it easy for employees, both on the showroom floor and in the back office, to ensure customers can always find what they’re looking for.
Facility monitoring diagram in Microsoft Visio
Data visualizations are as diverse as the data they represent. This diagram—created with Power BI and Microsoft Visio—displays the expected temperature across the second floor of an office building alongside the temperature data that was actually observed. In this visualization, users can use the Pan & Zoom function in Visio to explore specific office spaces or drill even deeper into the data.
Business process monitoring diagram in Microsoft Visio
Organizations that track a wide variety of metrics can benefit from displaying that data visually. This example of a loan approval process—built in Microsoft Visio, using standard Power BI visuals—compares expected and actual ticket service level agreements in hours. It also shows the people, financial resources, and equipment allocated to each step.
Organizational performance diagram in Microsoft Visio
Sometimes all you need is a visual snapshot to understand what’s going on. These examples show a Microsoft Visio organization chart alongside a Power BI dashboard displaying revenue per month by product and the revenue percentage variance in relation to budget. This visual helps quickly capture the big picture for decision makers and adjusts to changes in either data set.
Types of data visualization
Selecting the right data visualization depends completely on the dataset you’re linking to—and the insights you need to gather. But the options are practically endless. Here is a look at some common—and some more in-depth—types of data visualization.
Basic data visualization
While data visualization goes way beyond simple bar graphs and pie charts, they are the baseline for many graphics. Here are a few popular visualization styles:
- Bar graph
- Pie chart
- Block diagram
- Cycle diagram
- Pyramid diagram
- Venn diagram
Advanced data visualization
Sometimes the data story you need to tell requires a more advanced visualization. Here are a few additional options worth exploring:
- Heat map
- Org chart
- UML diagram
- Entity relationship diagram
- Bubble cloud
- Network diagram
- Circle view
- Gantt chart
- Scatter plot
- Radial tree
- Word cloud
- Dot distribution map
- Area chart
- Wedge stack graph
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Visualize your data with Microsoft Visio
Discover new insights and transform the way you communicate data with powerful data visualization software.
Create with confidence
Creating easy-to-understand visuals begins with selecting the right tool. Choose Visio to get access to dozens of premade templates and starter diagrams—and more than 250,000 shapes between the desktop and web app. Visio supports a wide range of data sources, including Microsoft Excel workbooks, Microsoft SQL Server databases, Azure Active Directory info, and more.
Collaborate with ease
Create and coauthor professional-looking diagrams for effective data visualization, decision making, and process execution to help increase productivity across the business. Visio is always up to date, so you’ll never need to install a new version—plus, all content is stored in the cloud, so diagrams can be created, viewed, or edited on the go.
Customize in real-time
Data visualizations powered by machine data adapt to new information as it comes in to provide decision makers with the most up-to-date picture possible. But graphics can also be customized by hand. Refine the look and feel of your data visualization in Visio, add new pages as the story shifts, and use Presentation Mode (available in the desktop app only) to share the latest version with your team.
More on Visio and data visualization
Compare versions of Visio
View all Visio plan options and explore what's possible with data visualization.
Get started quickly with Visio
Learn how to use the existing Visio templates as well as how to arrange, connect, and modify shapes.
Get your questions answered
Get answers to frequently asked questions about Visio for the web.
Become a Visio expert
Learn the basics or get deeper guidance with these training courses.
Create Visio diagrams in Excel
Use the Visio Data Visualizer add-in to create data-driven diagrams directly in Excel.
Link to your data
Quickly connect Visio diagrams to your data sources to create a panoramic view of your business.
Add Visio visuals to Power BI reports
Drive operational and business intelligence with Visio and Power BI visualizations all in one place.
Collaborate on reports in Teams
Add a report with Visio visuals as a tab in Microsoft Teams—then collaborate with others on the report.
Coauthor web diagrams
Work with colleagues and see diagram changes in real time, as if working together in person.
Embed diagrams in other files
Learn how to export your diagram—or parts of it—as a JPEG or PNG file and add it to an Office file.
Make your diagrams accessible
Explore how to make your Visio diagrams inclusive for all with accessibility best practices.
Send us your ideas
Tell us how Visio can help address your data visualization needs through the Visio Feedback Portal.
Frequently asked questions
The primary goal of data visualization is to make data more understandable. The most effective visualizations tell a story, allowing insights that would otherwise be buried in the dataset to come through.
Data visualization is used by professionals in a wide range of industries to tell powerful data stories and make sense of large amounts of information. In fact, the method has been used for centuries to do just this.
From public health visualizations to pop music analysis, data visualization has an important part to play in interpreting complicated data for a broader audience.
Data visualization is the best technique human beings have for making sense of large datasets. The human brain evolved to spot patterns, make visual distinctions, and understand the world through narratives, which is why data visualization is so effective.
Data visualization has many advantages over delivery of raw data:
- Visuals are easier to understand. The human brain is programmed for visual communication. Data visualization presents raw data in a clear and cohesive way, which makes it easier to draw informed conclusions and see things from a high-level perspective.
- Visualized content is processed faster. Human beings process visual images like graphs and charts much faster than text. Data visualization dramatically improves the speed of decision-making.
- Data stories are more engaging. Data visualization allows data scientists and other professionals to create a narrative from raw inputs. While some draw a line between creative storytelling and technical analysis, data science merges the two for greater effect.
Data analysis is the process of collecting, cleaning, and analyzing data to find data-based insights. Data analysis is important because it gives decision makers tangible information they can use to inform their strategy.
The next step is data visualization, which makes this data visually consumable for a broader audience. Data visualization has the power to tell data-driven stories while empowering people to see patterns or connections they wouldn’t otherwise notice.
Both data analysis and data visualization are elements of the larger discipline of data science. When used in harmony, they can help professionals make informed decisions, increase their understanding of data-related topics, and even predict future events.