So What Can You Actually Do With Data Visualization?

We have all seen data visualization grow in stature over the past decade and it is now an essential part of our daily lives.

Newspaper articles that discuss statistics uniformly communicate these through visualizations, sports teams are critiqued through graphs and animations, and in boardrooms, leaders see the data they want through interactive dashboards. But what can actually be done with visualizations? What is the point of them and why have they become so important?

The most important element of any data visualization is the ability to show something complex as simply as possible. If you have a dataset with hundreds of different points, trying to see what the correlation is from an excel spreadsheet is going to be almost impossible. The ability to clearly see trends allows decision makers to act quickly.

We have seen technologies like in-memory computing analyzing data at speeds never before possible and if the analysis can’t be communicated as quickly, then having this computing power is essentially meaningless. Visualization allows people to see trends instantly, streamlining the decision-making process.

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This is shown concisely with this visualization from NASA that looks at how Mars may have lost its atmosphere due to solar winds. It would be almost impossible to show this kind of data through numbers, but an interactive visualization shows it perfectly.

As mentioned above, the speed of understanding that comes from visualization is a significant benefit of the practice, but not only in the way that company leaders can make decisions.

Increasingly, visualizations allow companies to show the benefits of their products through imaging rather than either audio or text. These have evolved significantly over the years and one of the earliest examples would be the use of the infamous blue liquid test for absorbent materials. You could say ‘my kitchen towel soaks up 50% more liquid’ but showing this visually had significantly more impact on the consumer.

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