Flexible data

Apr 17, 2013

Data is an abstraction of something that happened in the real world. How people move. How they spend money. How a computer works. The tendency is to approach data and by default, visualization, as rigid facts stripped of joy, humor, conflict, and sadness — because that makes analysis easier. Visualization is easier when you can strip the data down to unwavering fact and then reduce the process to a set of unwavering rules.

The world is complex though. There are exceptions, limitations, and interactions that aren’t expressed explicitly through data. So we make inferences with uncertainty attached. We make an educated guess and then compare to the actual thing or stuff that was measured to see if the data and our findings make sense.

Data isn’t rigid so neither is visualization.

Are there rules? There are, just like there are in statistics. And you should learn them.

However, in statistics, you eventually learn that there’s more to analysis than hypothesis tests and normal distributions, and in visualization you eventually learn that there’s more to the process than efficient graphical perception and avoidance of all things round. Design matters, no doubt, but your understanding of the data matters much more.

Favorites

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Visualizing the Uncertainty in Data

Data is an abstraction, and it’s impossible to encapsulate everything it represents in real life. So there is uncertainty. Here are ways to visualize the uncertainty.

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A Day in the Life of Americans

I wanted to see how daily patterns emerge at the individual level and how a person’s entire day plays out. So I simulated 1,000 of them.