The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.
We live in a data-rich world. The technology advances at an amazing pace and organisations are able to capture an ever-growing amount of data. This proliferation can often be seen as problematic. Data can be collected and processed by a range of tools – sensors, computers and mobile phones to name a few.
However, this so called big data comes with its own problems. The costs of storage and management can be sometimes prohibitive, ensuring data security and protecting privacy is also becoming harder for a lot of organisations. Making sense of the information hidden in all this data can be a problem too. It requires a new breed of well trained information analysts and decision-makers who are capable of understanding what the data is telling them.
On the other hand data collected by organisations can and should be treated as a wealth of potential opportunities. Not only can it provide accurate business reporting, help to spot trends and relationships within the data variables but it can also offer a glimpse into possible versions of the future by using ‘predictive analytics’.
By exploiting knowledge of the human visual system we can use variables such as shape, size, colour and position to create an almost physical depiction of data. As readers, we can then interpret these representations, posing questions such as:
- How many?
- Which is bigger?
- Which is the smallest?
- What has changed over time?
- What is the relationship there?
Because of the way the human brain processes information, it is faster and easier for us to understand the meaning of data points when they are displayed in charts rather than looking at piles of spreadsheets or reading huge reports.
Well selected visualisations help us see things that were not obvious from looking at the numbers alone. Even when data volumes are very large, we can spot the patterns more quickly and easily, therefore visualisation can help and amplify our understanding.