Visualization is a great way to explain and describe data to people who don’t know data. Good visualization lets the data speak, as they say. But this doesn’t mean you shove your data into a program or stick it into a presentation template and expect others to care. You still have to analyze and explore the data yourself, find what’s interesting, and you present that.
“But how do I make this graphic look cool?”
Tell people something more about the data that isn’t just, “Here’s the data.”
You could use an obscure visualization method in place of your standard one, but what’s the point if you just say the same thing? You might catch an eye or two because of the novelty, but those eyes will bolt just as quickly if there isn’t any substance.
So instead of showing the same non-message in different ways, you iterate. You cut and explore the data in different ways, and you make a lot of graphics that never see the light of day. Many will be ugly, and most of them will be uninteresting, but you might also find something worthwhile. Let that something guide you.
iterate to find the interesting stories.
Good message and a good way to sum up what data visualization is really about.
The story finding process is really the hard part, which is why I really enjoy sites like
where bits of this process are elucidated
Sometimes there isn’t an interesting story. While data exploration is great and can lead to some fascinating insights, in large, multivariate, data sets there will often be some statistical anomaly that looks interesting but in reality isn’t. I would say that data visualisation is (or should be) about finding the best possible way to present data in order to maximize our understanding of it (often by targeting our visual pattern finding abilities) or to assist others in the comprehension of it. If that understanding leads to a great story then that’s… great but accuracy and integrity should be the first concerns.
Well said, Nathan!
Had to share on FB :-D
“Visualization of data” god how I hate the computer generation sometimes, dead, as romantic as nihilism,
this is the “brave new world” Aldous Huley wrote about. The future has become the present, and we mourn
the past which still had beauty that these dead data mongers will never know. god I hate the decaying culture