What is Data Visualization? - dummies

By Mico Yuk, Stephanie Diamond

Here’s a simple definition of data visualization: It’s the study of how to represent data by using a visual or artistic approach rather than the traditional reporting method.

Two of the most popular types of data visualizations are dashboards and infographics, both of which use a combination of charts, text, and images to communicate the message of the data. The practice of transforming data into meaningful and useful information via some form of visualization or report is called Business Intelligence (BI).

Understanding the importance of data viz

Data visualizations (you can call them data viz for short) are widely used in companies of all sizes to communicate their data stories. This practice, known as BI, is a multibillion-dollar industry. It continues to grow exponentially as more companies seek ways to use their big data to gain valuable insight into past, current, and future events.

With the recent popularity of social media and mobile apps, the amount of data that’s generated on a moment-to-moment basis is astounding. For this reason, many companies find that making sense of that data requires the use of some form of data visualization. It’s virtually impossible to view 1 million rows of data and try to make sense of it!

Imagine going out to your garage every morning, jumping into your car, and then heading to work blindfolded. Chances are that you wouldn’t make it past the driveway without having an accident. The same is true for a company that lacks insight into what its data is telling it. This lack of insight is dangerous, and its ramifications could be quite costly, both short- and long-term. Therefore, it’s critical that companies use their data to gain insights about their performance.

Discovering who uses data viz

Data visualizations are for everybody. All of us use them, whether or not we realize it. If you use apps on your smartphone, for example, chances are that you depend on data visualizations to make critical decisions on an almost daily basis. Do you ever use a weather app to determine how to dress for that day? If you open the app and see a cloud with lightning at the top of the app, you have a good idea that it’s going to be a stormy, rainy day without having to read any data about temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity.

This example shows you how a simple visual helps you gain quick insight and make a quick decision (in this case, to wear a raincoat and carry an umbrella). Believe it or not, you just consumed a good data visualization.