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How to Approach Data Visualization in the Life Sciences  

In today’s data-driven world, harnessing the power of data visualization is critical for effective decision-making. Whether you’re a data analyst, business owner, or professional who is seeking insights, adopting a foundational approach to data visualization lays the groundwork for creating compelling and impactful visuals. Given the specialized nature of data in the life sciences field, tailoring your visualizations to properly convey the complexities and nuances in the data is crucial. By grasping the principles and techniques at the core of this approach, life sciences professionals can uncover patterns, identify trends, and communicate information with clarity. In this piece, we delve into how to approach data visualization in the life sciences, covering the components from assessing your data maturity to selecting appropriate visuals and enhancing usability.

Data Visualization in the Life Sciences

1. Where to Begin: Assessing Your Data Maturity 

In the life sciences industry, data and analytics play a pivotal role in research, drug development, and healthcare decision-making. However, organizations often face challenges in managing and leveraging their data effectively. Before diving into data visualization tools, the first step is to actually assess where your organization is in terms of data maturity.  

Many businesses often overestimate their readiness in managing data and analytics. Whether you’re still working with spreadsheets or have upgraded to cloud storage and more advanced computing, establishing a reliable foundation is essential. Taking the time to understand your organization’s needs, capabilities, and limitations ensures the effectiveness and efficiency of your data visualization projects. Further, by tailoring data visualization tools (DVTs) to match your bandwidth and hardware requirements, you can optimize your reporting processes and user experience. 

2. Defining Your Goal 

When working with data, we generally recommend starting with a goal in mind. We’ve often seen that analysts or end users usually have one of three goals they want to accomplish.  

  • Data Exploration: Data exploration refers to the initial step in data analysis, in which data analysts use a combination of statistical techniques and data visualization platforms to describe dataset characterizations. This allows analysts to determine the quantity and quality of the data they are given. 
  • Monitoring: Upon completion of data exploration, the BI (business intelligence) developers then create measures and visuals to display the key performance indicators (KPIs) of interest. This is considered the data monitoring stage, where end users can regularly go into published reports to monitor the performance of their department or business. 
  • Explanatory Analysis (storytelling): The third goal is the step beyond exploratory and monitoring. Instead of exploring what happened, explanatory analysis focuses more on how and why it happened. Storytelling with data not only aids teams in understanding the ‘how’ and ‘why’ but also guides them toward determining what should happen next. 

3. Selecting the Right Data 

After determining where your organization is in terms of overall data maturity, it’s time to determine what data might best be suited for your analysis. We often encounter vast and diverse datasets when working with life sciences clients, ranging from genomics and proteomics to clinical trial results and patient data. Selecting the right data becomes crucial to derive meaningful insights from these complex datasets. Whether you’re analyzing gene expression patterns, comparing treatment outcomes, or exploring disease prevalence, understanding your main goal is essential. Identifying the key metrics and data points that align with your objectives will aid in keeping the end user’s attention and avoid overwhelming the dashboard with too much information. Always focus on the most critical data that will drive decisions. 

4. Nailing Down Your Visualizations 

Once you’ve defined your goals, it’s time to identify the most suitable visualizations. Start with simple, easy-to-understand options, like bar charts, line graphs, and tables, especially if your team is new to data visualization tools (DVTs). Consider the goals you determined in step two when selecting the best chart to use and ensure that the graph you select helps you tell the correct story. 

In general, bar charts provide a clear visual representation of discrete categories or data points, while line charts excel in showing the continuous progression of data over time. We also recommend using tables – although less visually appealing, they serve their purpose of facilitating in-depth data analysis.  

By selecting the appropriate visualization, you ensure that your audience can interpret and derive insights from your data easily. Once you have a firm grasp of the fundamentals, try incorporating parameterized axes. These can empower users to interact with the chart and explore specific time periods or dimensions of interest. This flexibility enhances understanding and enables deeper insights from the data. 

5. Increasing Usability 

Ensuring that your visualizations are usable by a wide variety of audiences should be paramount when putting together data visualization projects. Researchers, clinicians, and regulatory authorities alike rely on intuitive and user-friendly data visualization interfaces to derive meaningful insights from complex datasets. 

Testing and iterating your reports and dashboards are essential to understanding the end-user experience. Incorporating prompts, disclaimers, and user-friendly features such as filters and drilldowns can greatly enhance user adoption. Additionally, providing training and change management support helps users fully utilize the advanced reporting objects and develop a deeper understanding of the underlying data. Continuously monitoring and updating your dashboards also ensures their relevance and usefulness over time. 

6. Ensuring Long-Term Sustainability 

In the dynamic realm of life sciences, particularly in research and development (R&D) and clinical trials, where data-driven decisions shape the landscape, maintaining robust data visualizations is pivotal. If you’re working with clinical trial data, for example, make a clear plan to share insights. It’s essential to meticulously observe how stakeholders interact with visualizations, ensuring strict adherence to the rigorous rules and guidelines inherent in clinical trials. We also recommend working closely with other developers, as this collaboration prevents redundancy in work and ensures alignment in the usage of data sources across the team. 

Driving Meaningful Outcomes with Data Visualization 

Data visualization goes beyond processing data; it’s about making the underlying data presentable, comfortable, and impactful for users. By mastering the foundational approach, you can create aesthetically pleasing and effective dashboards and presentations that drive informed decision-making. In an industry where every insight counts, don’t let a lack of analytics resources hinder your progress. Empower your team to spend less time analyzing and more time leveraging direct insights. By embracing this foundational approach to data visualization, you’ll unlock the true potential of your data, drive meaningful outcomes and contribute to the advancement of life-saving innovations. 

If you’re looking for guidance with building a foundation for data visualization, our team can help. Connect with us today. 

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Tags: Data Strategy