If a picture is worth thousand words, then what about a neat data visualization? Displaying information in graphics to generate better insights is not a new phenomenon, but, with the advent of technology and increased access to data, it has become far more prominent. Once restricted to analysis of economics, finance, and science, data visualization has emerged as an industry of its own.
There are now multiple tools to visualize data (like SocialCops Viz), competitions for visualizations, and even data visualization artists. From a haunting depiction of gun violence in America and an assessment of India’s RTE Act to a series of charts highlighting a footballer’s greatness and a collection of maps depicting India’s size, data visualization transcends fields — all data can be visualized.
Why visualize data? Beyond the mere aesthetic attraction of a beautiful graphic, data visualization matters because it can be extremely helpful. It is easier for the human brain to process large volumes of data through visuals rather than text. Studies have shown that humans find it easier to distinguish line length, shape orientation, and color — collectively known as pre-attentive attributes — than read a series of numbers. This is because around two-third of our brain’s neurons are dedicated solely to vision. This makes it easier and quicker to interpret information visually.
Take the example of India’s GDP since Independence. The narrative is a familiar one. After Independence, Indian economic growth was anaemic (rarely hovering above 5%). It was only in the late 1980s and 1990s that growth really accelerated, driven by a tremendous increase in services output. Below are a table and graph conveying this same information, but the graph tells the story in a way that’s both more intuitive and informative.
Data visualization allows us to identify these sorts of trends, along with problems and possible solutions. This makes it a valuable tool for anyone — especially those working in policy. Policymakers use swathes of data across sectors to make important decisions. In this ocean of information, data visualization can quickly show them what needs to be refined or aborted.