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What Is Data Visualization?

Data visualization is the of data in visual ways such as charts, graphs and maps, that help users clearly understand what the data means.

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What is data visualization?

Data visualization is the graphic representation of data in visual ways that help users quickly and clearly understand what the data is telling them using charts, graphs, maps and other visual elements.  

The history of data visualization

In the past, users themselves had to convert data into visual formats to help communicate the information in that data to users. Today technology makes it possible to quickly convey data—even very large amounts of data—is a visual manner, automatically.  

While the type of data visualization we tend to think of today is generally credited to the work of researchers like John W. Tukey and Jacques Berlin in the 1960s and 1970s, the truth is that data visualization dates back to prehistoric times and Paleolithic cave paintings. 

The 20th century, though, really represents the emergence of data visualization in the way we think about it today as computer processing allowed the ability to collect, store and report data in automated ways. 

What is data visualization used for?

The primary use of data visualization is to help explain very complex information, or distill very large amounts of data, to users in readily understandable ways. 

Infographics are a form of visualization that we see everywhere today—from boardrooms to social media channels. But infographics, while they can visually present data, aren’t the same as data visualization. Data visualization isn’t just about data presentation—it’s about data exploration. That’s the use case for data visualization. 

Data visualization takes the work out the equation for users, helping them to understand and draw conclusions from data more easily and meaningfully. In HR settings, data visualization can be used to identify people trends—like where top candidates are coming from geographically, which employees may be most at risk for turnover, which employees have been promoted from various diverse employee segments, etc.

Today data visualization serves three purposes: to see, to tell, and to wow. In business settings the two main purposes of visualization should be as an analyst seeing what’s there and as a presenter telling key facts to business executives. 

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