Data Visualization

Data Visualization is the graphical representation of information and data. By using visual elements like charts, graphs, and maps, data visualization tools provide an accessible way to see and understand trends, outliers, and patterns in data. In the world of Big Data, data visualization tools and technologies are essential to analyze massive amounts of information and make data-driven decisions.[1]

Types of Data Visualizations
The earliest form of data visualization can be traced back the Egyptians in the pre-17th century, largely used to assist in navigation. As time progressed, people leveraged data visualizations for broader applications, such as in economic, social, health disciplines. Perhaps most notably, Edward Tufte published The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (link resides outside IBM), which illustrated that individuals could utilize data visualization to present data in a more effective manner. His book continues to stand the test of time, especially as companies turn to dashboards to report their performance metrics in real-time. Dashboards are effective data visualization tools for tracking and visualizing data from multiple data sources, providing visibility into the effects of specific behaviors by a team or an adjacent one on performance. Dashboards include common visualization techniques, such as:

  • Tables: This consists of rows and columns used to compare variables. Tables can show a great deal of information in a structured way, but they can also overwhelm users that are simply looking for high-level trends.
  • Pie charts and stacked bar charts: These graphs are divided into sections that represent parts of a whole. They provide a simple way to organize data and compare the size of each component to one other.
  • Line graphs and area charts: These visuals show change in one or more quantities by plotting a series of data points over time. Line graphs utilize lines to demonstrate these changes while area charts connect data points with line segments, stacking variables on top of one another and using color to distinguish between variables.
  • Histograms: This graph plots a distribution of numbers using a bar chart (with no spaces between the bars), representing the quantity of data that falls within a particular range. This visual makes it easy for an end user to identify outliers within a given dataset.
  • Scatter plots: These visuals are beneficial in reveling the relationship between two variables, and they are commonly used within regression data analysis. However, these can sometimes be confused with bubble charts, which are used to visualize three variables via the x-axis, the y-axis, and the size of the bubble.
  • Heat maps: These graphical displays are helpful in visualizing behavioral data by location. This can be a location on a map, or even a webpage.
  • Tree maps, which display hierarchical data as a set of nested shapes, typically rectangles. Treemaps are great for comparing the proportions between categories via their area size

The Uses of Data Visualization[2]
Regardless of industry or size, all types of businesses are using data visualization to help make sense of their data.

  • Comprehend information quickly: By using graphical representations of business information, businesses are able to see large amounts of data in clear, cohesive ways – and draw conclusions from that information. And since it’s significantly faster to analyze information in graphical format (as opposed to analyzing information in spreadsheets), businesses can address problems or answer questions in a more timely manner.
  • Identify relationships and patterns: Even extensive amounts of complicated data start to make sense when presented graphically; businesses can recognize parameters that are highly correlated. Some of the correlations will be obvious, but others won’t. Identifying those relationships helps organizations focus on areas most likely to influence their most important goals.
  • Pinpoint emerging trends: Using data visualization to discover trends – both in the business and in the market – can give businesses an edge over the competition, and ultimately affect the bottom line. It’s easy to spot outliers that affect product quality or customer churn, and address issues before they become bigger problems.
  • Communicate the story to others: Once a business has uncovered new insights from visual analytics, the next step is to communicate those insights to others. Using charts, graphs or other visually impactful representations of data is important in this step because it’s engaging and gets the message across quickly.

The Importance and Need for Data Visualization[3]
Data Visualization is important because it allows trends and patterns to be more easily seen. With the rise of big data upon us, we need to be able to interpret increasingly larger batches of data. Machine learning makes it easier to conduct analyses such as predictive analysis, which can then serve as helpful visualizations to present. But data visualization is not only important for data scientists and data analysts, it is necessary to understand data visualization in any career. Whether you work in finance, marketing, tech, design, or anything else, you need to visualize data. That fact showcases the importance of data visualization.

We need data visualization because a visual summary of information makes it easier to identify patterns and trends than looking through thousands of rows on a spreadsheet. It’s the way the human brain works. Since the purpose of data analysis is to gain insights, data is much more valuable when it is visualized. Even if a data analyst can pull insights from data without visualization, it will be more difficult to communicate the meaning without visualization. Charts and graphs make communicating data findings easier even if you can identify the patterns without them. In undergraduate business schools, students are often taught the importance of presenting data findings with visualization. Without a visual representation of the insights, it can be hard for the audience to grasp the true meaning of the findings. For example, rattling off numbers to your boss won’t tell them why they should care about the data, but showing them a graph of how much money the insights could save/make them is sure to get their attention.

Data Visualization and Big Data[4]
The increased popularity of big data and data analysis projects have made visualization more important than ever. Companies are increasingly using machine learning to gather massive amounts of data that can be difficult and slow to sort through, comprehend and explain. Visualization offers a means to speed this up and present information to business owners and stakeholders in ways they can understand.

Big data visualization often goes beyond the typical techniques used in normal visualization, such as pie charts, histograms and corporate graphs. It instead uses more complex representations, such as heat maps and fever charts. Big data visualization requires powerful computer systems to collect raw data, process it and turn it into graphical representations that humans can use to quickly draw insights.

While big data visualization can be beneficial, it can pose several disadvantages to organizations. They are as follows:

  • To get the most out of big data visualization tools, a visualization specialist must be hired. This specialist must be able to identify the best data sets and visualization styles to guarantee organizations are optimizing the use of their data.
  • Big data visualization projects often require involvement from IT, as well as management, since the visualization of big data requires powerful computer hardware, efficient storage systems and even a move to the cloud.
  • The insights provided by big data visualization will only be as accurate as the information being visualized. Therefore, it is essential to have people and processes in place to govern and control the quality of corporate data, metadata and data sources.

Data Visualization Best Practices[5]
With so many data visualization tools readily available, there has also been a rise in ineffective information visualization. Visual communication should be simple and deliberate to ensure that your data visualization helps your target audience arrive at your intended insight or conclusion. The following best practices can help ensure your data visualization is useful and clear:

  • Set the context: It’s important to provide general background information to ground the audience around why this particular data point is important. For example, if e-mail open rates were underperforming, we may want to illustrate how a company’s open rate compares to the overall industry, demonstrating that the company has a problem within this marketing channel. To drive an action, the audience needs to understand how current performance compares to something tangible, like a goal, benchmark, or other key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Know your audience(s): Think about who your visualization is designed for and then make sure your data visualization fits their needs. What is that person trying to accomplish? What kind of questions do they care about? Does your visualization address their concerns? You’ll want the data that you provide to motivate people to act within their scope of their role. If you’re unsure if the visualization is clear, present it to one or two people within your target audience to get feedback, allowing you to make additional edits prior to a large presentation.
  • Choose an effective visual: Specific visuals are designed for specific types of datasets. For instance, scatter plots display the relationship between two variables well, while line graphs display time series data well. Ensure that the visual actually assists the audience in understanding your main takeaway. Misalignment of charts and data can result in the opposite, confusing your audience further versus providing clarity.
  • Keep it simple: Data visualization tools can make it easy to add all sorts of information to your visual. However, just because you can, it doesn’t mean that you should! In data visualization, you want to be very deliberate about the additional information that you add to focus user attention. For example, do you need data labels on every bar in your bar chart? Perhaps you only need one or two to help illustrate your point. Do you need a variety of colors to communicate your idea? Are you using colors that are accessible to a wide range of audiences (e.g. accounting for color blind audiences)? Design your data visualization for maximum impact by eliminating information that may distract your target audience.

See Also

Data visualization is the graphical representation of information and data. By using visual elements like charts, graphs, and maps, data visualization tools provide an accessible way to see and understand trends, outliers, and patterns in data. In the context of data science, business intelligence, and information management, it plays a crucial role in translating complex data sets into a form that can be easily interpreted by decision-makers.

  • Information Visualization: This broader term encompasses the visual representation of data that is abstract, often lacking a physical form. It delves into how humans perceive and interact with graphical data representations.
  • Business Intelligence (BI): Discussing the technologies, applications, strategies, and practices used to collect, analyze, integrate, and present pertinent business information. Data visualization is a key component of BI, enabling organizations to make data-driven decisions.
  • Infographic: A specific type of data visualization focusing on rendering data in a graphic format to educate or inform. Infographics combine visual storytelling with data presentation, making complex information easier to digest.
  • Data Analytics: Covering the process of analyzing raw data to find trends and answer questions. The visualization of analysis results is crucial for interpreting data analytics outcomes and communicating findings.
  • Dashboard Design: Focusing on the principles of designing effective dashboards for monitoring, analyzing, and visually displaying key performance indicators (KPIs), metrics, and data points to track the health of a business, department, or specific process.
  • Geographic Information System (GIS): Discussing systems that are designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present spatial or geographic data. GIS data visualizations include maps and 3D scenes.
  • Statistical Graphics: Covering the use of graphs to represent data and statistical results, including histograms, scatter plots, and box plots. Statistical graphics are a fundamental aspect of exploratory data analysis.
  • Interactive Visualization: Exploring visualizations that allow users to engage with the data directly to uncover additional insights. This includes drill-down capabilities, dynamic filtering, and the exploration of large, complex data sets.
  • Visual Perception Theory: Understanding how visual information is interpreted by the human brain, including principles of color theory, cognitive load, and visual hierarchy, which are critical for effective data visualization design.
  • Data Journalism: The practice of finding stories in data and using visualizations to communicate those stories to the public. Data visualization tools enable journalists to present data in a more engaging and understandable way.
  • Machine Learning and Data Mining: Discussing the role of data visualization in exploring data for the development of predictive models and the discovery of patterns and relationships in large data sets.
  • Big Data Visualization: Covering techniques and tools for visualizing large volumes of data, which may involve complex data sets and real-time data streams. Big data visualization helps in making sense of data that is too vast or complex for traditional processing.


  1. Definition - What Does Data Visualization Mean? Tableau
  2. How is data visualization used? SAS
  3. Why is data visualization important and why do we need it?
  4. Data Visualization and Big Data Techtarget
  5. What Best Practices can ensure Data Visualization is Useful and Clear? IBM