Having the technical know-how to bring quantitative visions into beautiful, understandable focus is not only a sought-after skill among employers, but it's really important for making sense out of the oceans of data we're all swamped with each day. What you may see as attractive and intuitive on the receiving end requires hours of work behind the scenes constructing charts that add to everyone's understanding and that proactively answer predictable questions.

Access to data--even good-quality data--often isn't the real problem. The issue you encounter is creating a visual picture that enhances people's understanding of the business. At work, you get used to making the same charts each month. While this saves time in updates, there is an opportunity lost in being a thought leader and showing your creativity.

When you're ready to move beyond the bar chart, check out these sites for inspiration when visualizing your next data set:

  1. Jorge Camoes's blog is handy for those of us stuck with Microsoft Excel. For better or worse, it is the spreadsheet tool a lot of us have to use. Camoes offers example upon example that will make you think, "Whoa, I didn't know I could do that."
  2. Dr. Nathan Yau's blog on data visualization offers idea-sparking examples of charts from a variety of industries. A membership is required to get access to his "how to" tutorials, but the site offers enough free inspiration to make it worthwhile to check out.
  3. Juice Analytics is one of dozens of data-visualization consulting businesses. It's noteworthy because it produces a blog that shares tons of sample charts via the Chart Chooser--with examples largely within health care but for other businesses too. One of these examples may be just what you need to lift the bar beyond the ordinary chart format.
  4. And if you still haven’t had enough, check out the collection of charts and graphs at Kantar’s 2014 Information Is Beautiful Awards site.

Sometimes, you have a point to make, so you go in search of the data and the chart type to support it. I'm working with a client now who was convinced that an erosion in staff was crippling her office's ability to get work done. She was right, but the percentage of staff loss didn't feel quite big enough to her, so her search for more supportive data continues. Other times, you have the time and freedom to delve into your own data (such as for sales, staff, new product innovations) to see what it has to tell you.

This ability to convert a mind-boggling volume of numbers in a spreadsheet into a clear, cohesive picture is admirable. But a lot of people can do that these days with plug-ins to Microsoft Excel. So it's not simply mastering charts that makes smart analysts key to their teams. Instead, it's an ability to invite the reader into the analysis in a way that respects his or her intelligence.

Good data visualization is clear and focused but still allows the audience to draw its own conclusions. Taking a fresh approach with your data to make a new visual picture might help snag the positive attention you need both for your project and your career.