Data and information visualization
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Data and information visualization (data viz or info viz) is the process of designing and creating easy-to-communicate and easy-to-understand graphic or visual representation of a large amount of complex data and information with the help of static, dynamic or interactive visual items intended for the general public to convey a summary of known information in an eye-catching manner (presentational visualization) or for a specific audience to help them visually explore and discover, quickly understand and gain important insights into structures, relationships, correlations, local and global patterns, trends, clusters, outliers and unusual groupings within data (exploratory visualization).
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Data visualization is concerned with visually presenting sets of primarily quantitative raw data in a schematic form. The visual formats used in data visualization include tables, charts and graphs (e.g. pie charts, bar charts, line charts, area charts, cone charts, pyramid charts, donut charts, histograms, spectrograms, cohort charts, waterfall charts, funnel charts, bullet graphs, etc.), diagrams, plots (e.g. scatter plots, distribution plots, box-and-whisker plots), geospatial maps (such as proportional symbol maps, choropleth maps, isopleth maps and heat maps), figures, correlation matrices, percentage gauges, etc., which sometimes can be combined in a dashboard. Information visualization, on the other hand, is more about multiple, large-scale and complicated datasets which contain quantitative (numerical) data as well as qualitative (non-numerical, i.e. verbal or graphical) and primarily abstract information and its goal is to add value to raw data, improve the viewers' comprehension, enhance their cognition and help them derive insights and make decisions as they navigate and interact with the computer-supported graphical display. Visual tools used in information visualization include maps (such as tree maps), animations, infographics, Sankey diagrams, flow charts, network diagrams, semantic networks, entity-relationship diagrams, venn diagrams, timelines, mind maps, etc. In data and information visualization, the goal is to graphically present and explore abstract, non-physical and non-spatial data collected from databases, information systems, file systems, documents, business information, financial data, etc. (presentational and exploratory visualization) which is different from the field of scientific visualization, where the goal is to render realistic images based on physical and spatial scientific data to confirm or reject hypotheses (confirmatory visualization).
Effective data visualization is properly sourced, contextualized, simple and uncluttered. The underlying data is accurate and up-to-date to make sure that insights are reliabile. Graphical items well-chosen for the given datasets are accompanied by supporting texts, and these two components complement each other to ensure clear, quick and memorable understanding. Effective information visualization is aware of the needs and concerns and the level of expertise of the target audience, deliberately guiding them to the intended conclusion. Such effective visualization can be used not only for conveying specialized, complex, big data-driven ideas to a wider group of people in a visually appealing, engaging and accessible manner, but also for making decisions, monitoring performance, generating new ideas and stimulating research. In addition, data scientists, data analysts and data mining specialists use data visualization to check the quality of data, find errors, unusual gaps and missing values in data, clean data, explore the structures and features of data and asses outputs of data-driven models. In business, data and information visualization can be part of data storytelling where it is paired with a narrative structure or storyline to contextualize the analyzed data and communicate the insights gained from analyzing the data clearly and memorably with the goal of convincing the audience into making a decision or taking an action in order to create business value.
The field of data and information visualization is of interdisciplinary nature as it incorporates principles found in the disciplines of descriptive statistics (as early as the 18th century), visual communication, graphic design, cognitive science and, more recently, interactive computer graphics and human-computer interaction. Since effective visualization requires design skills, statistical skills and computing skills, it is argued by authors such as Gershon and Page that it is both an art and a science. The neighboring field of visual analytics marries statistical data analysis, data and information visualization and human analytical reasoning through interactive visual interfaces to help human users reach conclusions, gain actionable insights and make informed decisions which are otherwise difficult for computers to do.
Research into how people read and misread various types of visualizations is helping to determine what types and features of visualizations are most understandable and effective in conveying information. On the other hand, unintentionally poor or intentionally misleading and deceptive visualizations can function as powerful tools which disseminate misinformation, manipulate public perception and divert public opinion toward a certain agenda.