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Data Visualization in 2023 — Seven Trends to Watch

For those professionally involved in data visualization — either as a practitioner or consumer — don’t expect to be here in a year viewing dashboards in a VR headset. 2023 most likely won’t be dominated by flashy and visionary tech advancements in the field but rather be centered around practical extensions of existing solutions in a business context, e.g. via features that drive usability, comprehension, engagement and adoption.

That being said, there are also some new creative approaches and technology applications that you should anticipate going into the new year — read on for the full list!

A spiral staircase viewed from below, along the middle of the spiral, with the underside of the steps resembling an upside-down staircase, warmly lit by pairs of lamps on the underside of steps on the left and right sides and leading up into a white grate.

1. Greater Emphasis on UX

UX design is a human-centered, iterative design process that strives to create meaningful experiences that meet the needs of users. We at the Starschema dataviz team are big fans of this approach, so it’s especially encouraging to see it increasingly become the foundation of product development and more and more companies recognize its benefits within the scope of developing data visualizations / BI dashboards as well.

We expect to see UX design move towards being adopted as the standard framework for developing effective data visualizations, including analytics dashboards. This change is very much business-driven: with the huge increase in the amount of data being collected, there is a greater need to transform complex information into actionable insights in a clear and easy-to-understand way in order to support decision-making and meet the goals of the organization.

UX will benefit both the consumers and creators of data visualizations by

  • helping to identify the main stakeholder goals and pain points, as well as the KPIs that need to be visualized;
  • facilitating better comprehension and ensuring simplicity through clearly structured layouts and a logical information architecture;
  • revealing design solutions based on best practices for selecting the right charts;
  • ensuring that visualizations meet user needs through usability testing and iterations based on feedback.

Some changes are already apparent: within the UX space, we are seeing more focus on interaction design, with features such as dynamic zoom visibility in Tableau.

2. Technical Features to Drive Adoption

How well a tool or platform performs its core functions is just one way in which it can generate value — if nobody’s using it, all the features in the world won’t make it a worthwhile investment. This reality will continue to lead to the emergence of features to improve data literacy, which will in turn drive adoption and increase trust and data governance capability among business users.

Tableau once again offers clear evidence of this change taking place: their Data Guide is here to provide explanatory context for dashboard users, while this dashboard by Starschema DataViz Team Lead Tamás Varga showcases features that can be used to create a guided onboarding tour to help users quickly get acquainted with new or unfamiliar dashboards:

A dashboard with the title Superstore — Sales Distribution Overview in the upper left corner, dominated by nodes arranged in four color-coded columns showing the connections between, from left to right, category, subcategory, person, segment and product. The dashboard is darkened by an overlay with white text and arrows pointing out the color legend for nodes, how sales are filtered to the top 10 products by default, the title of the dashboard repeated in the middle, and the guided tour toggle.

3. Focus on Accessibility

Accessibility has gained a lot of attention in the past years, and as legislation is put in place to ensure that those with disabilities have equal access to information in the digital space, it is bound to eventually become a minimum requirement. In the EU, the European Accessibility Act will require public companies to make their digital products and services accessible to people with disabilities. The requirement will go live in 2025, so we expect to see relevant efforts ramp up in 2023.

You can already see companies take steps in these direction, including

  • implementing color palettes that take into consideration visual impairments, e.g. replacing the typical red-green diverging scale with red-blue or even orange-blue;
  • including alt text in charts for screen readers and keyboard navigation;
  • more experimental solutions like graph sonification to help the visually impaired interpret charts through sound.

4. Data Storytelling

Like accessibility, data storytelling has been a trending topic for years, and it is here to stay in 2023 — for good reason. Data storytelling helps to highlight key takeaways from the data and is a more effective and efficient way of communicating insights than trying to absorb a series of interrelated pieces of information by merely looking at numbers and charts.

In terms of relevant technology, we’re seeing AI play a significant role by drawing narratives around data with solutions such as natural language generation, which helps automatically package and communicate information in a humanlike manner. Tableau has also made progress with their most recent feature release, Data Stories, which automatically generates exactly that — data stories — around trends and anomalies to build actionable insights for business stakeholders, augmenting and enhancing traditional reporting.

5. Application Integration to Create a Reporting Ecosystem

We’ve already talked about tools and platforms rolling out features to make them easier to adopt — and a better value proposition. But how frequently and deeply a single user engages with them is equally important, and 2023 will no doubt see an increase in solutions to drive engagement with reports by way of reporting synergies.

Expect to see Slack notifications pointing to Tableau dashboards, and solutions such as customized email reporting with links to data visualizations. These integrations can serve both regular and ad hoc reporting needs and ensure that users get their insights when, where and how they prefer, but also don’t miss any KPI change that demands their immediate attention.

6. More UI Design Influence in BI Reporting

Companies are increasingly starting to recognize the functional value of aesthetics and, as a result, are placing more emphasis on UI design in dashboard reports. Their goal isn’t just to align with the brand identity but, more importantly, to enhance usability and facilitate comprehension.

Good UI helps to

  • establish clarity;
  • improve legibility and communicate information hierarchies purposefully with typography and color;
  • direct attention to the right places and communicate what’s happening with color;
  • suggest interactions with relevant input controls and navigational components.

In fact, within the general proliferation of UI Design in reporting, there are already a few sub-trends emerging:

Dark Mode

If you search data visualization or dashboard designs on Behance, Pinterest or Tableau Public, one thing you’ll notice that dark mode is having a renaissance. Dark mode is, of course, nothing new and has been around for decades — in fact, the first computer screens were dark by default.

Dark mode has gained widespread popularity in digital interfaces in recent years with pioneering tech companies like Apple and Microsoft rolling out the option to switch to dark mode on their operating interfaces. Its key benefits include

  • less strain on the eye;
  • less blue light emitted from screen;
  • greater accessibility for the visually impaired;
  • easier legibility in dark environments; and
  • longer battery life on certain devices.

With dark mode proving to be one of the more resilient trends in digital visual content, there’s every reason to believe that it will see wider adoption in data visualization in 2023.

Animations and Transitions

Animations and transitions are also gaining more traction in dashboard design. They are increasingly used to enhance the communication of data and tell a story by drawing attention to changes happening in the data. And Tableau is already officially on board with their Viz Animations feature!

Graphic Design Applications on Dashboards

There has been a lot of creativity in the dataviz community to enhance dashboards with visual design elements combining Figma and Adobe graphics within dashboards. TabCSS is a great plugin from Tableau Community Ambassador Rody Zakovich to help make dashboards more visually pleasing while also improving development workflows. As dataviz practitioners, we not only expect but actively hope to be able to take advantage of advancements like this to have more flexibility in styling dashboards in the coming year.

Honorable Mentions, Closing Thoughts

To sum up, we expect many of the data viz trends that we have seen in recent years, like accessibility and UX design, to stick around and eventually become standard practice in data visualization.

It’s also worth mentioning the emergence of augmented and virtual reality — we don’t necessarily see such technologies and solutions as a major trend at this point, but there’s definitely considerable experimentation and investment going into the field. We definitely anticipate it gaining more popularity in the future.

Overall, we’re noticing that business dashboards are becoming more like ‘data applications’ that transcend the relatively static content-viewer dynamic and other traditional limitations of visualizations. There is a growing business need for more complex and engaging interactions to facilitate more innovative decisions, and while the direction is clear, there aren’t many mature, comprehensive solutions out there.

About the Author:

Hanna Békefi is a data visualization expert at Starschema with a focus in UX and visual design. Follow her on Twitter at @hbekefi.

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