Visualization is IN. More specifically, the practice of visualizing statistical data or quantitative information through the use of computer technology is cropping up everywhere. Two articles of note: “The Best Tools for Visualization” on ReadWriteWeb (3/08), and “Data Visualization: Modern Approaches” on Smashing Magazine (8/07, less recent but worth visiting). There’s “Design and the Elastic Mind“, an exhibition currently at MOMA in NYC (through May 12), Google’s March release of a Visualization API, Digg Labs‘ exciting forays into visualization (particularly Stack, Swarm, Arc pictured above), and soon, Microsoft’s Worldwide Telescope, an application that “has taken the best images from the world’s greatest telescopes in earth and in space and has woven them seamlessly into a holistic view of the universe”. Now what to do with all these “new” ways of seeing?
Swedish doctor/researcher Hans Rosling uses data visualization software to unpack global socioeconomic trends in these two lively and fascinating (some also say controversial) TED talks, one in 2006 and another in 2007. A good example, I think, of how massive amounts of data can be turned into incredibly rich animations to present a complex theory/argument quickly, persuasively.
Words of wisdom and caution from Edward Tufte, a pioneer/master in the field of information design and data visualization:
“… statistical graphics, just like statistical calculations, are only as good as what goes into them. An ill-specified or preposterous model or a puny data set cannot be rescued by a graphic (or by calculation), no matter how clever or fancy. A silly theory means a silly graphic.”
“Graphical excellence begins with telling the truth about data.”