What is Data Visualization?

Steve BurgData0 Comments


What is data visualization? In short, it is a way of making large, complex sets of data easier to understand, in a way that is different than visual analytics.


In our last post we spoke about visual analytics and there was some concern that people in the digiverse would think that Jaco is a data visualization company. Once we got into the topic we realized that defining both terms was not only necessary, but each topic deserved it’s own post. We are big believers in data visualization and we employ the examples all the time here at Jaco.


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What is data visualization?


When you google the term data visualization, you get the following definition, “data visualization is a general term that describes any effort to help people understand the significance of data by placing it in a visual context.”
That definition is quite broad, so we came up with our own:
Data visualization is a term that describes the practice of transforming data into patterns and shapes, making it easier for people to understand.


This is very different from visual analytics which is showing you how people use your products.


Examples of data visualization


Data visualization comes in all forms of shapes and sizes, ranging from complex patterns and shapes to ones we commonly encounter. Those who work in analytics constantly encounter visualizations in the form of line graphs, bar charts, pie charts and more. We could go on, but Marshall Erickson explains it best.

Taking data visualization to the next level


While we usually encounter very simple visualizations, there is a whole field of science dedicated to building extremely beautiful and complex patterns based on data. In fact, two data professionals had a year long correspondence entirely through data visualizations.


The result was so impressive, it has since been acquired by MoMA and made into a book called Dear Data. It’s a fascinating story, and a recommended read for anyone interested in data visualizations.


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Another great example of complex data visualizations, Flickr user 802.11 used Wikipedia to created a stunning visual timeline of the band Pink Floyd from 1960-2000.


Pink Floyd Timeline 1960-2000


While the splotchy pattern and bright colors resembles purely aesthetic abstract art, the designer actually used data to build the entire piece. If you look closely, you’ll see a color map on the bottom of the timeline that gives each member of the band a color. The shapes and colors directly correlate to the years and albums and band members involved.


Data visualization makes large data sets easier to understand, however, it is quite different from visual analytics. While data visualization relies on data that already exists in the world. Visual analytics is a data collection mechanism that allows you to collect information on how users are engaging with your platform.


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