Data visualization has changed our society considerably. From the most simple projected line across a football field through to complex graphs outlining market fluctuations, they are changing the way that our society is approaching and understanding data.
However, despite the huge impact visualizations have had, they still face considerable challenges in the future. We take a look at the 5 most pressing.
Virtual reality is going to have a huge impact on the potential for data visualizations, allowing people to interact with data in the third dimension for the first time. Imagine being able to pick a data set and move it around on any axis to compare it to another, it isn’t too far away. According to SAS we can process only 1 kilobit of information per second on a flat screen, which can be increased significantly if it’s analyzed in a 3D VR world. In fact, we have already seen Goodyear collaborate with Dr Robert Maples to use VR data visualization to improve their Formula 1 tyre performance.
However, the challenge with this comes with trying to get it in the hands of businesses who would benefit from the technology. Virtual reality is something that is currently seen as predominantly for entertainment so trying to get a senior leader in a fortune 500 company to wear one to look at sales data would certainly be a struggle. At present there are some moves to try and make VR headsets more compact, but this is going to take several years and data visualization needs to stay front and centre until then.
Augmented reality may well be the single biggest change that we are going to see regarding the use of data visualizations. To some extent we have seen some of it already, with HUDs like the now defunct Google Glass, overlaying data onto what you can see in front of you. Bizarrely, one of the key reasons for the sudden concentration on AR is the huge success of Pokemon Go, which not only showed the capabilities of AR, but also introduced it to a wide and diverse audience.
The challenge that data visualization is going to have is that those creating them need to make sure they are doing so in an understandable and non-obtrusive way. It creates a new dynamic, where the data overlaid needs to be clear, concise and not distracting. It’s a fine line to balance on and a real challenge for those who are used to creating traditional visualizations.
VR and AR are likely to be interesting technologies in the future, but for the time being, we are still going to be consuming the majority of our data through traditional 2D screens.