Book Image

Data Visualization: a successful design process

Book Image

Data Visualization: a successful design process

Overview of this book

Do you want to create more attractive charts? Or do you have huge data sets and need to unearth the key insights in a visual manner? Data visualization is the representation and presentation of data, using proven design techniques to bring alive the patterns, stories and key insights locked away."Data Visualization: a Successful Design Process" explores the unique fusion of art and science that is data visualization; a discipline for which instinct alone is insufficient for you to succeed in enabling audiences to discover key trends, insights and discoveries from your data. This book will equip you with the key techniques required to overcome contemporary data visualization challenges. You'll discover a proven design methodology that helps you develop invaluable knowledge and practical capabilities.You'll never again settle for a default Excel chart or resort to "fancy-looking" graphs. You will be able to work from the starting point of acquiring, preparing and familiarizing with your data, right through to concept design. Choose your "killer" visual representation to engage and inform your audience."Data Visualization: a Successful Design Process" will inspire you to relish any visualization project with greater confidence and bullish know-how; turning challenges into exciting design opportunities.
Table of Contents (13 chapters)
Data Visualization: a successful design process
About the Author
About the Reviewers

Defining data visualization

It is important now to consider a definition of data visualization. To do this, we first need to consider the main agents involved in the exchange of information; namely, the messenger, the receiver, and the message. The relationship between these three is clearly very important, as this illustration explains:

On one side we have a messenger looking to impart results, analysis, and stories. This is the designer. On the other side, you have the receiver of the message. These are the readers or the users of your visualization. The message in the middle is the channel of communication. In our case this is the data visualization; a chart, an online interactive, a touch screen installation, or maybe an infographic in a newspaper. This is the form through which we communicate to the receiver.

The task for you as the designer is to put yourself in the shoes of the reader. Try to imagine, anticipate, and determine what they are going to be seeking from your message. What stories are they seeking? Is it just to learn something new or are they looking for persuasion, something with more emotional impact? This type of appreciation is what fundamentally shapes the best practices in visualization design: considering and respecting the needs of the reader.

The important point is this: to ensure that our message is conveyed in the most effective and efficient form, one that will serve the requirements of the receiver, we need to make sure we design (or "encode") our message in a way that actively exploits how the receiver will most effectively interpret (or "decode") the message through their visual perception capabilities.

From this illustration we can form the following definition to clarify, at this early stage, what we mean by data visualization:

The representation and presentation of data that exploits our visual perception abilities in order to amplify cognition.

Let's take a closer look at the key elements of this definition to clarify its meaning; these are as follows:

  • The representation of data is the way you decide to depict data through a choice of physical forms. Whether it is via a line, a bar, a circle, or any other visual variable, you are taking data as the raw material and creating a representation to best portray its attributes. We will cover this aspect of design much more in Chapter 4, Conceiving and Reasoning Visualization Design Options and Chapter 5, Taxonomy of Data Visualization Methods.

  • The presentation of data goes beyond the representation of data and concerns how you integrate your data representation into the overall communicated work, including the choice of colors, annotations, and interactive features. Similarly, this will be covered in depth in Chapter 4, Conceiving and Reasoning Visualization Design Options.

  • Exploiting our visual perception abilities relates to the scientific understanding of how our eyes and brains process information most effectively, as we've just discussed. This is about harnessing our abilities with spatial reasoning, pattern recognition, and big-picture thinking.

  • Amplify cognition is about maximizing how efficiently and effectively we are able to process the information into thoughts, insights, and knowledge. Ultimately, the objective of data visualization should be to make a reader or users feel like they have become better informed about a subject.

The definition that I've put forward here is not dissimilar to the many others articulated by authors, academics, and designers down the years. It is not intended to offer a paradigm shift in our understanding of what this is all about. Rather, it represents a personal perspective of the discipline influenced by many years of experience teaching, practicing, and constantly studying the subject.

The fact that data visualization is such a dynamic and evolving field, with this unique conjunction of art and science shaping its practice, means that a single, perfect, and universally-agreed definition is always going to be difficult to construct. However, this proposed definition should at least help you develop an appreciation of the boundaries of data visualization and recognize when something evolves into a different form of creative output.