2021 Observations: Data through the lens of the Observable Community

One of Observable’s motivating principles is to listen to and learn from its passionate and fast-growing community.Hundreds of our community members generously participated in two research surveys about data analysis and visualization over the past year. Here’s what we learned.

Data is exploding, for everyone

With the explosive growth in online technologies, services and information, data is overwhelming for all of us. Making sense of it is the biggest issue facing our connected world. For businesses, there is an urgent need for cross-functional teams to gain data-driven insights quickly to inform business decisions.

The data visualization community is growing

Observable’s survey data shows accelerated interest and growth in data visualization. This is confirmed by other industry observers: Fortune Business Insights in 2020 estimated a market size of $8.85B as of 2019 and projected growth (CAGR) of 10.2% through 2027.This growth in business investment and community size makes it clear that businesses are prioritizing tool investments for their teams to work with data, and gain data-driven insights.

Our surveys show that working with data is no longer something that primarily specialists do; working with data is increasingly becoming a critical skill for many jobs. More people are investing in their own data-centric skills to meet the rising business needs, and to excel in their chosen professions.

Data Practitioners: data specialists and their collaborators

The people investing in their data skills are in different job functions. They analyze data, share insights and communicate with each other:

  • Data scientists

  • Data engineers

  • Data architects

  • Business and financial analysts

  • Data visualization (dataviz) creators

  • Business Intelligence / Operational dashboard developers

  • Those who collaborate with the above, such as product managers, team leads, and decision makers

Observable uses the term data practitioners as an inclusive identity covering all of the people who work together on data.

Note that for the “hobbyist” category, deeper inspection showed that these people were in fact doing data-work, including data exploration, data analysis, data visualizations and dashboard creation, etc. They self-identified as hobbyists because they were doing this work in a personal capacity and not as part of their official job. This further strengthens the hypothesis on the broadening group of data practitioners honing their data-related skills.

More practitioners are entering the field to match industry demand

We're seeing that more and diverse practitioners are entering the field and beginning to sharpen their skills with languages and libraries for more complex data visualizations. This growth of the field may be fostered by easier access to learning materials outside of traditional learning environments, tools to break down silos and allow various skill-sets to participate and drive data visualization creation, and the sprouting of digital communities for collaboration and troubleshooting.

Creators, not just consumers

Traditionally, analyzing and visualizing data was reserved for experts. Observable's community challenges this perspective. We see an overwhelming majority of our user population (including those that don't identify as data analysts or dataviz experts) using the platform to explore and analyze data, and create visualizations for the explanation and examination of complex topics.

An overwhelming number of tools

The growing community of data practitioners is diverse, and it is no surprise they use a diverse set of tools. People are traditionally siloed by function or by role in their organizations. The different products people use reinforce the silos. As the data below shows, people use three, four, five, or more tools to stitch together an end-to-end flow to analyze, explore and communicate insights from their data.

Data work dependent on many different tools is too slow, error-prone and frustrating. Constant tool-hopping is not the way forward. In order for data teams to work together effectively, we need to break down the silos. People who can collaborate without friction and make decisions quickly will have a huge business advantage.

JavaScript isn’t just for web development

Javascript is the fastest growing language on the web.

Interestingly, very few identify as front-end developers.

Every day, our users use JavaScript to explore and analyze data, build data visualizations, and develop using their data for more insights. We like to think the Observable platform makes these tasks easier.

Data For The Win

While data workflows have increased in complexity and scope over the years, the data that people work with is mostly tabular. Databases and spreadsheets, that have been around for decades, still reign supreme.

What types of data do you work with?

Multiple data sources

What is also interesting is the increase in the number of data sources being used to get the work done:

This indicates another dimension of complexity that data practitioners have to deal with when trying to understand data and communicate information from that data.

Collaboration is the norm

Collaboration is the price of admission given the way people work together in a highly-connected world.

More and more practitioners are leveraging data visualization for effective decision making in every domain.

We notice that most of the reported collaboration is between two or three people.

How many people do you collaborate with?

This indicates an increasing demand for live, synchronous collaboration to enable quick and effective data exploration for these types of tight-collaborative relationships.


With data insights becoming increasingly important for businesses, there is an emerging community of data practitioners that is quickly growing and evolving beyond the traditional organizational silos. With the growth of this community, more and more cross-functional collaboration is happening every day to inform and drive data-based decision making.

Moving forward, we expect data-based collaboration and decision-making to be the norm, shaping the markets in the data visualization, data analysis and business intelligence categories. We are listening to and learning from this data practitioner community, and reporting back on our findings!

We would like to thank the members of our community whose enthusiastic response made this report possible, along with the members of the Observable team who helped curate and deliver this report to the community.

We would love to include your voice in future reports, so please consider participating in our bi-annual surveys next time.