The Art of Data Visualization

Data visualization is driven by numbers and logic. On the one hand, its primary purpose is to communicate information clearly and effectively. Effective data visualization makes sense of statistics, providing structure and function to an otherwise seemingly random group of numbers. Data visualization also serves an important purpose, guiding the everyday decisions of policymakers as well as the habits of everyday people. And sometimes, data is just purely interesting (see – One Race, Every Medalist Ever – it’s really entertaining).

On the other hand, I also think that data visualization can be described as a form of art. In fact, the process of creating a data display is very similar to the process an artist might experience when creating a new piece of art. First, there’s the inspiration that drives the topic. What concepts will be highlighted as the centerpiece? A person who is creating a visualization of data also decides on elements of color, shape, and line that all play a part in establishing the overall mood. It must be visually stimulating, engaging, and capture the viewer’s attention without distracting from the meaning of the data. Like a piece of art, the visual elements of a data display work together to enhance meaning and make connections to the numbers.

Other artistic decisions are also considered, like determining the layout and font selection, to prioritize and communicate information about the data. Aesthetic form and functionality work together to create an effective data visualization. Clearly, there is a unique art form and process that brings it all together.

If you’re like me –“artistically & statistically challenged”– there are fortunately some great websites and tools that can make anyone look like a pro. Here’s a few of my favorites:

Tableau Software

A free, web-based software program for creating data visualizations. It includes an extensive gallery, for inspiration, plus free training sessions.

Visual.ly

This social media-driven data site includes a large showcase of infographics and data visualizations. Currently developing a tool for creating dynamic infographics directly within your browser.

Many Eyes

A unique data visualization tool created by IBM. Upload data and then produce graphic representations for others to view and comment upon.

 

Image Credit: Visual.ly - RMMOJADO