Fortunately, our offices and homes tend to be safer than the savannah or the highway. Regardless, our lightning-quick sense of vision jumps into action even when we read email, tweets, or websites. And that right there is why data visualization communicates so powerfully and immediately: It takes advantage of these visual features, too.
A line graph immediately reveals upward or downward changes, thanks to the orientation of each segment. The axes of the graph use position to communicate values in relationship to each other. If there are multiple, colored lines, the color hue lets us rapidly tell the lines apart, no matter how many times they cross. Bar charts, maps with symbols, area graphs—these all use the visual superhighway in our brains to communicate meaning.
The early pioneers of data visualization were led by their intuition to use visual features like position, clustering, and hue. The longevity of those works is a testament to their power.
We now have software to help us visualize data and to turn tables of facts and figures into meaningful insights. That means anyone, even non-experts, can explore data in a way that wasn’t possible even 20 years ago. We can, all of us, analyze the world’s growing volume of data, spot trends and outliers, and make data-driven decisions.
Today, we don’t just have charts and graphs; we have the science behind them. We have started to unlock the principles of perception and cognition so we can apply them in new ways and in various combinations. A scatter plot can leverage position, hue, and size to visualize data. Its data points can interactively filter related charts, allowing the user to shift perspectives in their analysis by simply clicking on a point. Animating transitions as users pivot from one idea to the next brings previously hidden differences to the foreground. We’re building on the intuition of the pioneers and the conclusions of science to make analysis faster, easier, and more intuitive.
When humanity unlocked the science behind fire and magnets, we learned to harness chemistry and physics in new ways. And we revolutionized the world with steam engines and electrical generators.
Humanity is now at the dawn of a new revolution, and intuitive tools are putting the beautiful science of data visualization into the hands of millions of users.
I’m excited to see where you take all of us next.