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What is Data Visualization and Why Should You Care?

Picture yourself in one of these situations:

1. You work at a large consulting firm, dealing with clients that generate millions in annual revenue. You’ve just concluded a massive performance assessment and are about to submit your recommendations to your client, which you’re sure will be well received. However, your presentation comes off as drab and irrelevant, with the audience only giving you puzzled looks, as you try to understand why they don’t share your enthusiasm.

2. You are a hip entrepreneur, just about to pitch your flourishing business to potential investors, in hope of raising a large investment. You know that these people like numbers and data, and you disclose as much information as you can during your pitch. Despite being a smooth-talker, you fail to make any of them open their wallets for you.

3. You are a graphic designer, preparing a flyer for an environmental protection group, highlighting the ill-effects of global warming. You put in plenty of catchy photos and explain the problem, hoping that this will make people take notice. However, when you go out on the street to get public feedback, people are fascinated by your flyer, but no one clearly empathizes with your cause. In fact, some even directly deny the claims made by the flyer.

Real-life scenarios such as the above are where Data Visualization comes in handy. It can be defined as the presentation of data in a pictorial or graphical format. It makes your data look pretty, but that’s not the only reason why you should use it.

Raw Data Is Difficult To Interpret

If you relied only on tabulated numbers to convey your information, just how effective would it be? You are guaranteed to miss some important figures, have trouble in mentally assimilating the information and in some cases, find the numbers overwhelming and completely shut your mind off.

Visualizations Let You See Patterns

An unmatched benefit of visualization is their ability to display vast quantities of data efficiently. You can mash up data from different sources and combine them into a single chart. A table with thousands of rows can be represented as a few strokes and shapes – which is a lot easier for the brain to digest. A top-notch visualization is open ended; it does not try to force you to reach a particular conclusion, but rather lets you have insight into the data that you may have never noticed before.

We Are Wired to Visualize

The popularity of visualizations is not surprising, once you realize that it is ingrained in our biology. Every waking moment, we are absorbing huge amounts of data, consciously or subconsciously, through our eyes. The optic nerve, which sends information from the eye to the brain, has been estimated to have a data bandwidth of 9Mb/sec. Visualizations make effective use of this capability to deliver knowledge, thereby giving us actionable insights for decision making.

Tools & Ease of Use

Visualization tools come in all shapes and sizes, for different purposes and target audience. You might have something as simple as a kindergartner can use, to something highly advanced for use in a research lab. Without delving on the technical details, here are a few examples;

A lack of technical chops is no excuse to delay getting started – all you need is a keen interest.

Take Control: Sharpen Your Skills

Here’s some food for thought – now that you know why data visualization is important and how exactly it helps, go back to the beginning of the post. What would you do differently to improve those scenarios?

Without doubt, data visualization is a lucrative skill to possess in today’s competitive job market. If you don’t have the background, or think your skills are shabby, fear not; there are plenty of opportunities through which you can master this art (or science, depending on your perspective).

  • The iSchool offers a graduate level course on Information Visualization (IST 719)
  • If you’d like to familiarize yourself with the theory before jumping in, take your pick from these books.
  • The internet is rife with websites and blogs that provide tutorials and fascinating examples.
  • NEXIS at the iSchool is currently running a Data Viz project; contact Billy to know how you can get involved.
  • Join the Syracuse InfoVis Meetup to meet like-minded people and learn hands-on visualization techniques.


Are you a Data Viz enthusiast? What motivates you to keep Visualizing? Let us know in the comments section below!

Aravind Gopalakrishnan

Aravind is a 2015 master's graduate in Information Management and Data Science. His writing topics include Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Product Management, Data Science and the Grad School Experience.

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