Visualization isn’t just about fancy charts

Continuing from my last post on how data isn’t everything, visualization isn’t just about finding cool ways to show off data. “Visualization”, which seems to be a hot topic at the moment, is more than that. While it might be a buzzword that refers to showcasing data and statistics in a interesting way, I think “visualizing” something goes beyond that and should refer to how visuals, images, graphics, etc. help us understand any topic better and educate or inform people to know and do something with this information.

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A quick scan of Wikipedia shows that there’s a bunch of terms “visualization” can refer to,including: mental image, information graphics, perception, and thinking, highlighting that it’s an evolving field. Taking this idea further, there’s a difference in ‘information’ design vs. ‘graphic’ design. Whatever the tools or channels, the purpose of designing information is about making information accessible to the people who will need it and use it to make important decisions, as mentioned in Joel Katz’s book Designing Information. Graphic design, on the other hand, is more about making things look “pretty” or for aesthetic beauty. Both are naturally link yet have different purposes.

Visualization can then be like the signage in the photo above, the illustration below educating readers on the process of the Olympics Slopestyle, creating a chart out of Legos to show the impact of licensing, or allowing users ofGoogle Ngram to find the commonality of keywords in publications over a given time period.

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