A Love Letter to Data Visualization
Last April, I scared my friends into thinking I was a crazy person because I had discovered a passion for something rare. No, not season 11 of The Bachelor. Data visualization.
It all started when I realized that I liked to categorize and connect information in order to learn more about patterns in my life. I thought that if I could see how different aspects of my life affected each other, I could make better decisions and set more accurate goals. For example, I wanted to figure out how to budget, how and why I procrastinate, how I communicate with others, or what music I listen to in relation to the weather.
My Descent into Data Visualization Madness
The more I thought about data visualization, I began to stumble across more and more resources for it. I discovered Automatic, an app that “connects your car to the rest of your digital life.” Then Spotify came out with your Year in Review for the songs and genres that you’ve listened to all year. Last but certainly not least, I found Nicholas Felton, data visualizer extraordinaire. And let me tell you, I freaked out. I fell in love with every one of Feltron’s annual reports (even before Wired shared his talents to the world, mind you) and it was downhill from there.
I scraped through every bit of intel I could gather on myself: texts, phone calls, Google hangout conversations, Facebook messages, spending habits, miles flown, destinations traveled to, miles I had run, you name it. I was like Russel Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, hidden away in my secret shed out back, making connections between each piece of content. I even started learning R, a programming language for statistical computing, until I wasn’t learning it fast enough and asked my friend who’s getting a Ph.D. in Economics to do it for me. What a saint.
All this data madness made me want to explore its history and impact on both my personal life and the business world. I wanted to learn as much as possible because I just knew that data visualization can do so much. It can improve understanding for clients with its easily digestible visuals, our company would be able to make smarter decisions based on past trends, and I would be able to maintain focus on important aspects of my life.
I want to share what I’ve learned about data visualization, its growth, what it can do, and where it’s going, so I’ve compiled the best articles on it. Check them out and get ready to geek out.
There are a lot of beautifully-designed data visualizations out there–but that doesn’t always mean they are effective. You see this in web design as well, though it might be harder to pinpoint. There are many websites that look beautiful in mockups, but they’re ineffective and difficult to navigate in practice.
This National Geographic article goes through the components of types of data visualization that are useful for legibility and how to use certain data structures to convey different outcomes. I think a lot of designers miss this key factor and at that point their data visualization just becomes data art. This article is a fantastic resource that can help everybody ensure that their work isn’t just aesthetically pleasing.
This article eloquently personifies the medium and tells the growth of data visualization like a story. From the birth of infographics to its new, fancy corporate job in data viz, Fast Company chronicles the important stepping stones data visualization has taken to get to where it is now. And that’s not all–the article even speculates on the future of data visualization.
While I was mesmerized by infographics, I also recall feeling as if they left a lot of quantitative data to be desired. Until recently, I had no idea that data science analyst was even a profession. It was a huge revelation to see how massive data sets can be molded into comprehensible works of art. This article also importantly points out that sometimes, visualizing large data sets create even more questions than answers. It’s all about how you use it.
Sometimes I wish I kept track of how many times clients have come to be and said, “I want my website to look like Apple.” There’s a reason everyone wants to be like Apple. Their design is sleek and beautifully simple; of course, it’s because Apple is a wildly successful, multi-billion dollar company–who wouldn’t want to emulate that?
While no one should imitate a design sensibility, there’s nothing wrong with appreciating good work and letting it influence you. That’s why I like this article. It has great examples of data visualization that anyone can use for inspiration. Also, since Perfect Search is a digital marketing agency, I always appreciate seeing good marketing examples from acclaimed organizations. When companies like Think With Google create attention-grabbing and impactful pieces, they are engaging users and driving traffic to their site. This article reminds me of how effective data visualization and digital marketing can be when used together.
I think it’s safe to say that most of us are skimmers. We read through and jump over so much content in one day that something has to really stand out to catch our attention. When I came across this engaging, animated data visualization, it didn’t just grab my attention. It popped out of the screen and even made me cry.
Neil Halloran, the creator of this viral video, told a story with data in a way that you can’t express merely through words. It was more effective than my high school World History teacher ever was. And what’s more? The data visualization video even teaches empathy and understanding better than any textbook could.
Why Everyone Needs to Think About Data Visualization
Not everyone needs to compartmentalize data to make sense of it like me. However, I do think companies with huge data sets would be missing out on something extremely beneficial if they ignore data visualization.
Think of how data visualization can engage an audience so much that they just couldn’t help but convert. Think of making something so easy to understand that everyone wants to work with you. Think of being able to predict the future trends of your business. Think of how excited people get over data visualization, like my main man Hans Rosling (who gives a killer TED talk with the sweetest interactive data I have ever seen). Think about data visualization.
Are you a data viz geek like Anna? Do you have any favorite articles or resources on data visualization? We’d love to hear them. Tweet us @Perfect_Search or email us at email@example.com.
Anna Allingham lives in the outskirts of Denver, Colorado but will always be a Chicagoan at heart. When she’s not geeking out over data visualizations and playing Stardew Valley, Anna spends her days planning her next trip – and a safari in Tanzania is at the top of her list.