What Is Information Visualization And What Can It Help Me With?

Updated February 13, 2020

In our lives, we experience an overflow of information. We truly live in the information age, where facts, data, and other information just flies at us from left and right. It can be a bit hard for us to grasp at times. This isn't even talking about the digital information, but also info from newspapers, billboards, receipts, and everything else your eyes look at. Well, it's not even just eyes. What we hear can be informed as well.

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The point is, there's a lot of data and information we experience, from things happening in close vicinity to irrelevant facts and figures. How does our mind process it? It's especially overwhelming in the information age, where we can make, save, look at, or manipulate information. It's overwhelming! Instead of enlightening us, we don't know what to do with all the data. How can one piece of data stand out over something else? How does that work? One way it can work is through a process known as information visualization.

What Is Information Visualization?

Information visualization is how a person can showcase information in a visual manner that is easy for us to be able to understand, and it's easy for others to manipulate. It can take a piece of information that's complex and make it easier to access. Because of how the Internet is growing and how so much information is being thrown at us at a time there is a larger job market for people who can take information and deliver it tangibly.

Let's take a look at your GPS as an example of information visualization. When you type in the address you want to drive to; the GPS will give you an easy way to understand what routes you need to take.

When you type in the address, you will get written instructions. They are quite simple, telling you to take a right or a left in a certain amount of miles. Not only is it visual, but it's audio as well, with a voice usually reading the instructions to you.

Then, there is a second method of information. It will show you the map of where you're going, with the route illustrated simply. This information can be useful in different situations. The written instructions are great for those who just want to make it to the destination in the easiest way possible. Meanwhile, the map is not only good for people who want to watch their progress, but it's also great for people who want to take a few detours and visit some parts of their destination. The map can usually show nearby stops and allow a person to explore the world around them. Both are different information visualization types that combine to form one way to take you on your journey.
The written instructions are minimalist and simple. This is a good way for people who just want to read the instructions and move on. Then, the second is for those who want to see visually. They want to see the maps, and their mind can digest it quickly.

How Information Visualization is Used

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Information visualization is used for many parts of our lives, and a few examples include:

  • If someone wants to present their information, be it a journalist, your boss, or someone giving a speech, there are often problems with presenting their information by word. It can be overwhelming, or difficult to explain. Visualization can help people to present their findings. If someone has written an article about how a city has crumbling infrastructure, a map may be useful to show which parts of the city have the worst infrastructure. Then, there are maps in general. Maps are useful to help people find their way. Often, verbal instructions can be a challenge. Someone may know an area quite well and explain it verbally to someone who doesn't know. They feel overwhelmed. A map is the best way for someone to find their way around a location. It takes a city or a location that is hard to navigate and makes it a little bit easier.
  • When presenting information, some people do it in a way that is meant to persuade. When someone wants to convince you to take a stance, be it political or something else, they may organize the information they have to favor their point. They may leave out information that does not illustrate their point in the best light while keeping information that does. Look at the Internet. There are plenty of fake websites around that present information in a way that seems reputable. However, more often than not, the information is fake. Many people, because the information is presented professionally, will not question it critically and take it at face value. This can be a bit of a problem. And the problem is that the ethics of the information presented are all up to the person who is doing the presenting. Someone can make a graph showing the correlation between the number of vaccines a child gets and the diagnosis of autism, but then leave out other factors, such as how the definition of autism has expanded.
  • Then, there is explorative analysis. The explorative analysis takes data and makes it into a nice little map. For example, if one were to look at the cancer rates across the US, a map can show you what states have the highest and lowest rates. Someone feels like an explorer as they look at the map and see what states have the highest rates. This then will raise more questions to the person looking at the information. Why does this state have a higher rate? Why does that state have a lower rate? How are they different? What is the cultural difference that could be causing this? What about diet, exercise, and healthcare

    in that state? The map does not explain the whys, but it instead provokes discussion and investigation. And in the end, that is what is most important. You can take a look at all the information and see the relationships, and that is always quite fun to explore. The next time you look at a map, why not give it a try?

  • Then there is confirmation analysis. This is when data is used to help confirm certain understandings. This is often done by comparing two different but related Someone may look at the sales of one business with the sales of another and see how they compare and relate. Often, this is done by a graph that maps out everything through a simple line. It's easier to understand, and you can see the line rise and fall as goes through certain dates. Being able to map it out and see what the information says is quite interesting, and many people will want to read the graphs and see what they can find.

In Summary

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Information visualization is growing more important. For the longest time, we just had the written word, and while that could explain data in more detail, it was often too overwhelming. As people who want instant gratification, graphs and charts can help us understand the data quickly and then move on with our lives. It can be informative, persuasive, or a bit of both.

This isn't to say that information visualization is perfect. It has quite a few problems. Many charts can be manipulated to make you want to take a stance that may be incorrect. Often, data that can make a subject more nuanced is left out for convenience or because the person who made the chart wants you to feel a certain way.

When looking at a chart, especially one that is trying to convince you of something, think critically. Ask yourself some questions, such as:

  • Where did this data come from? Often, the image may have a source, but sometimes it doesn't. If there is no source, ask for one. Often, having no source is a sign that the data may not be genuine.
  • Is there anything left out? Try to find the full data if possible.
  • Read some analysis on the data. There may be fact-checking sites available that can make you come to a more informed conclusion. While fact-checking sites aren't infallible, they do use research to make the facts as presentable as possible.

If you're into graphic design, consider information visualization. With the world becoming more connected, there is a bigger need to take the information we are presented and simplify it for a general audience. It's more than slapping on some information; the design and the formatting are important to make the info pleasing to the eye. If the information is hard to read, one has failed.

Seek Help!

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If you feel overwhelmed by the world around you, or just need guidance, speak to a counselor. They can take your life and turn it into your graph. Give counseling a try.

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