5 Types of Data Visualization People – What Type Are You?

June 6, 2008  |  Miscellaneous

Data visualization means different things to many people. To some it's an analytical tool while to others it's a way to make a statement. In my experience, those interested in data visualization fall into these five categories.

The Technician

WrenchTechnicians are all about implementation. They have a strong programming background with experience in Processing, Actionscript, or some other similar language and probably have worked with large databases at one point or another. To technicians, aesthetics is not as important as getting things to work. After everything - database, hardware, code - is hooked together, it is then the technician tries to spruce things up. Show them a visualization and they'll want to know to know how it was made.

The Analyzer

Chalk BoardData is priority to analyzers. Like technicians, aesthetics are not the greatest concern; rather, analyzers want to know the relationships between variables, find positive and negative trends, and are most likely to tell you that you should have used a different type of graph or chart for that dataset. Tools like R, Microsoft Excel, and SAS are analyzers' weapon of choice. Many will have programming experience but don't code as well as technicians. Show an analyzer a visualization and they'll most likely comment on the (complex) patterns they see.

The Artist

Paint brushArtists are obsessed with the final product - what the visualization will finally look like. They are the designers who are most likely to think long and hard about colors, visual indicators, and whether or not that square box should be moved up 2 pixels to the left. Programming is not a strong point, but if it is, it's most likely in Processing. The weapon of choice though is the Adobe Creative Suite, namely Illustrator and Photoshop. Artists are most likely to tell you that something is ugly.

The Outsider

The OutsiderThe outsider is the one with a complex data set but not quite sure what to do with it. Outsiders are the field experts who want to visualize their data but might not have the know-how to follow through. They can, however, provide plenty of context and usually have a sense for what their data is about. You'll most often see the outsider with a pen and paper explaining things to the technician, analyzer, and artist.

The Light Bulb

Light BulbLight bulbs are the idea people. They've got some programming, design, and analytical experience, but they're not necessarily experts in all three areas. Because of all the experience, the brighter bulbs can usually handle a large data visualization project on their own (if they had the time). Knowing what's possible and not possible, light bulbs lead projects and can delegate work across a team. It's all about the big picture for the bulbs while the brightest are like the zen masters of data visualization.

I consider myself some combination of the analyzer and technician. I'm still searching for the artist in me. I've got some design experience, but there's still a lot to learn - always more to learn.

What data visualizer type are you?

14 Comments

  • I’d call myself an Engineer: 50% Technician, 40% Analyst, and 10% Artist.

    What do you call someone who uses gratuitous 3D effects, gradients, shadows, glows, transparency, and the like? There was no “Hack” category in your list.

  • I’m definitely an Analyst. It’s all about finding a way for the data to tell the story.

  • Unfortunately, I’d say I’m 100% technician. I love data analysis and visualization, and I’m a programmer by trade. I could work all day long on bringing data together, but I can’t seem to get even into the analyst’s domain of making sense of it and drawing useful conclusions. My ideal would be something like 60% technician, 40% analyst, but I’m just nowhere near that yet. Oh, I gave up on being any kind artist long ago; I’ll gladly defer to experts there.

  • I would consider myself close to you with a minor change in that you are probably more technical than me.

    I would say 70% Analyst, 20% Technician, 10% Artist.

    I like Jon’s suggestion for a 6th category for ‘Hack’, Outsider may work, maybe?.

    I bet you could come up with the optimal balance for different areas [jobs] in data visualization.

  • Light Bulb – 100%. I like to do some of each, but don’t have a team to do any of the projects (so I do it myself). I want to get to the ‘zen master’ part ;).

  • 50% technician, 40% Light Bulb & 10% undefined. I’m not bad with color schemes, but suck at graphic composition…

  • There is that sixth hacker type who thinks the more added features, the better the viz is, but no one would admit that. Because they _can_ add that stuff they are the guru – beauty and genius wrapped into one.

  • 50% Analyzer, 50% Artist.

    One of those people that spend *way* too much time tweaking the appearances of output.

  • Definitely the light bulb. I was a technician in my former career, started visualization work as an analyzer, and know enough about the art/aesthetics to take something from utilitarian to more effective.

  • 60% Technician, 40% Analyzer

  • 40% Technician, 40% Analyzer, 20% artist

    I spend too much time making sure the output looks good, even when I may be the only one who ever sees it, so I figure that must be at least 20% artist..

  • light bulb undoubtedly.

    very big, eco friendly light bulb.

  • I am firmly in the Analyzer camp (my weapon of choice is R), with aspirations to being an Artist, but sadly lacking the requisite skills!

  • I am firmly in the Analyzer camp (my weapon of choice is R), with aspirations to being an Artist, but sadly lacking the requisite skills!

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