One of the most important things to master when conducting research is how to present the information. Research findings must be presented clearly and simply in an easy to understand format, with concise conclusions. In this blog I take a look at those that have changed the way we visualise data, identifying some of my research heroes.

Old favourites

I consider one of the best ways to present data in a visual way to be the modern day pie chart. This visualisation was famously used by Florence Nightingale in 1857 as a solution for presenting data about death in the Crimean war. The first pie chart was invented by William Playfair (the scottish engineer and political economist) in 1801. The pie chart is an astounding way to present masses of complicated data in one easy to understand picture. William Playfair is also credited for creating the line graph and bar chart, all standard fair for the research analyst today. William Playfair is definitely one of my research heroes.

It’s all about what you ask and how you ask it

When presenting information you must consider how you got the information you are presenting. This will often guide you on how the information is finally visualised.

Someone who knows that research is all about what you ask and how you ask it is Fred Reichheld. He created the concept of the Net Promoter Score, which is a raking scale. The researcher asks how likely someone is to recommend a business or service, or how satisfied they are with a service and to score this on a ranking scale. This ranking then can be analysed to give an overall score of detractors and promoters, as well as calculating the value to the business

Although not very visual it is very simple. That is why Fred Reichheld is one of my research heroes.

Tell the story

Infographics tell a story and can present the key points from research in one big picture, using graphics and icons to present the message, presenting as much or as little information as you want.

An early infographic can be found for World War 2, demonstrating how working women are supporting the war effort.

The origins of modern day infographics are found in maps. For example the development of the modern London Underground map, created by Harry Beck In 1933. The design is based on electrical circuit drawings to represent the complicated tube system. This simplified the way the data was presented because it removed the concept of distance from the map, making it easy to read.

The modern day road sign was created out of the need for information to be presented in a clear format that anybody could understand quickly, regardless of language spoken. This was created by Margaret Calvert using pictograms to get information across in a way everybody could understand, by representing instructions and information using everyday images.

Margaret Calvert and Harry Beck contributed significantly to how we visualise information, for this reason they are two of my research heroes.

Keep it simple

One simple way to visualise analysis is to create a S.W.O.T matrix; this represents strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats.  This is a good starting point for perhaps a new product launch. S.W.O.T analysis visualises the information across a grid system, and can offer some useful interpretation of data, but it is only as good as the data used and the context considered. This form of matrix began in the 1960s and is attributed to the Stanford Research Institute.

If William Playfair gave us the fundamentals then Hans Rosling is bringing data visualisation into the modern day. Hans Rosling is a statistician from Sweden, from complex information he creates simple presentations that are extremely visual, making statistics easy to understand and relatable.

Someone else who uses visuals well is Steven D Levitt. Steven is an economist who questions theories through case studies in real world situations. Together with Stephen J Dubner, a journalist, he wrote the book Freakonomics and subsequently SuperFreakonomics which came with illustrations. They’re love of visualising research is clear on their website and they have achieved the ultimate visualisation, a movie.

Hans Rosling and Steve D Levitt are both number guys that are able to visualise their findings in an exciting and interesting way, because of that they are included in my list of research heroes.

Competitive Advantage strives to learn from and include these techniques in our research reports. Our aim is to make it quick and easy for you to understand the findings.

Who are your research heroes?



  1. Good post/topic Michael.

    I love what the ONS are currently doing each time they publish quarterly research stats. Alongside reports they also produce and publish some wonderful infographics to help people understand the stats and put them into context:

    Here’s one on how they explain the UK economy:

    On the flipside, many infographics fail due to making it complicated. It takes good analysts to decipher the data and then good marketers(?) to visualise the data and simplify it to a point where anyone can “get it”.

    I don’t have any heroes as such, but I do like ONS.


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