What is Data Visualization?

We convey thought, meaning and purpose when we communicate effectively. But the meaning behind our words can take time to comprehend, which means missed opportunities as well as miscommunication. Add “information overload” to this, and there’s a constant sense of disconnection and isolation.

How can we make sure that what we see and interpret is aligned and connected?

Data visualization is one way to convert the information into an image that ‘cuts to the chase.’ Whether you’re in a business environment or not, helping your human brain process and understand pictures quickly is something that adds value to your work in the world.

Business executives and managers are continually searching for new technologies to access massive quantities of information. This helps to tap into the core of the content so that the critical aspects can get communicated in a timely manner. Data visualization offers speed and flexibility to convert information into images that are understood.

Data Visualization Defined:

“Data visualization is the graphical display of abstract information for two purposes: sense­making (also called data analysis) and communication. Important stories live in our data and data visualization is a powerful means to discover and understand these stories, and then to present them to others. The information is abstract in that it describes things that are not physical. Statistical information is abstract. Whether it concerns sales, incidences of disease, athletic performance, or anything else, even though it doesn’t pertain to the physical world, we can still display it visually, but to do this we must find a way to give form to that which has none. This translation of the abstract into physical attributes of vision (length, position, size, shape, and color, to name a few) can only succeed if we understand a bit about visual perception and cognition. In other words, to visualize data effectively, we must follow design principles that are derived from an understanding of human perception.”
-Interaction Design Foundation

We Are Hardwired to Love Pictures:

According to an MIT study:1

  • Newly recorded speed is almost eight times faster than the 100 milliseconds recorded by previous studies
  • Part of the brain continues to process images for longer than 13 milliseconds to respond positively after a sequence of rapid­fire pictures
  • Their research suggests that ‘vision finds concepts’

MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences and senior author of the study indicated:

“The fact that you can do that at these high speeds indicates to us that what vision does is find concepts. That’s what the brain is doing all day long ­ trying to understand what we’re looking at,’ she added. This rapid­fire processing may help direct the eyes, which shift their gaze three times per second, to their next target, Professor Potter explained in the study, published in the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics. The job of the eyes is not only to get the information into the brain, but to allow the brain to think about it rapidly enough to know what you should look at next. ‘So in general we’re calibrating our eyes so they move around just as often as possible consistent with understanding what we’re seeing,’ she said. After an image ‘hits’ the retina, the information such as shape, color, and orientation is processed by the brain.”

Graphs And Charts are Not as Exciting

Using traditional graphs and charts does not offer true success for conveying the heart of a message. Not only are they cumbersome, but the extensive time it takes to create designs means that much of the information becomes irrelevant.

Not everyone is receptive to rows and columns of numbers. And if these people are the decision makers or movers and shakers within a company structure, critical information can be lost due to boredom or lack of understanding.

The transition of the data to infographics was the first ‘baby step.’ But in the excitement of having a new tool, images tended to get crammed with information, losing the context behind the data. The next evolution of turning the data into something truly meaningful is in understanding how the brain receives and processes images. Then and only then can we take it back to a level of simplicity.

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” ­ Steve Jobs

The Explosive Impact of Data Visualization on Business

Funneling the information from multiple areas and then pooling it into a concentrically focused location may give you a lot of data. But you won’t get any insight for the content. Business intelligence (BI) software of the past allowed some ability to slice and dice, but it still resulted in confusing spreadsheets.

The ultimate goal is to cut to the core of the information to extract value for your business. Finding the essential bits and restructuring it into an image that tells the story is where data visualization comes in.

Translating numbers into colorful images brings immediate comprehension, empowering the viewer to move beyond the basics. It opens the dialogue for conversation and interaction.

The ability to access data, present it in an image, and then make alterations for the ‘what if’ scenarios brings more incredible ‘ah­ha’ moments that are necessary to move forward with your decision making.

Communicating to All Team Members:

A company is made up of a variety of talents, including those with left brains, right brains, and a combination of both. Getting information across to everyone in a way that they understand in their unique situations has always been a challenge; and numbers only complicate things.

“Data visualization tools lets users interact with big data to see patterns and insights that they would not have seen otherwise.”
-IBM Market Development & Insights

“If used correctly, data visualization can help remove barriers to data comprehension by providing a shared language that simplifies complex issues and increases mutual understanding – no matter how big the big data becomes.”

By definition, data visualization takes information, reformats, and translates it into an image and signals the brain to comprehend the message. It’s the tool that brings the next generation together by tapping into the various ways that we humans perceive and understand.


Click here to download The Ultimate Guide To Data Visualization.

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