From Cave Paintings to Dashboards – A History of Data Visualization
Closing out 2013, the New York Times ran an interactive article entitled “How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk.” The article asked a series of questions around pronunciation and common phrases (and the readers interpretation) and displayed a personalized dialect map.
It was fascinating to see my personal dialect map has me pegged for Buffalo and Pittsburgh. The feature was a great way for the publication to take user submitted data and make it personal and visual.
Data Visualization is having a moment right now. Today’s visual data discovery and dashboarding have given every day business users the ability to unlock the power of their data – as well as remove the old guard of IT. It exists in the area between our work lives and our personal lives. Like analytics overall, businesses need not wait for Data Visualization to cross over into the mainstream, it’s already there.
But it’s always been there. People have been taking information and creating graphical representations for a very long time. Long before the printing press came cave paintings in France. And before that, Hieroglyphics. Perhaps we’re getting back to our roots – albeit in a much more advanced way.
For the most part, we’re now all contributing to the global cloud of data. We’re uploading images and documents, reviewing on Yelp, checking-in on foursquare, and liking and favouriting everywhere: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, this blog post.
All of this data amounts to something – data scientists and everyday people are all trying to piece together what exactly. What we do know is our data tells a story. If you look at SAP’s Data Geek Challenge [Starting with an intro video that would make Stan Lee proud below], where we went out to users and asked them to tell us a story using SAP Lumira you’ll see results that are funny, informative and real-world applicable.
So what does this mean for ‘traditional’ storytelling and communication? The good news is that regardless of the medium, be it verbal, written, pictorial or graphical you still start with the story. In the case of data visualization, the story is the data.
What We’re Doing at SAP
At SAP we’ve been using SAP Lumira to visualize data in new ways. Both from structured and unstructured sources.
For Valentine’s Day, we visualized where the loneliest people are in Canada (clearly we have a sense of humor) as well as the best Provinces to find a date.
We took a look at Men’s Olympic Hockey, Terry Penner put together a fantastic Oscar story and we will be jumping back into the prediction game with the upcoming NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament aka March Madness.
According to Author Vitaly Friedman, “The main goal of data visualization is its ability to visualize data, communicating information clearly and effectively. It doesn’t mean that data visualization needs to look boring to be functional or extremely sophisticated to look beautiful. To convey ideas effectively, both aesthetic form and functionality need to go hand in hand, providing insights into a rather sparse and complex data set by communicating its key-aspects in a more intuitive way. Yet designers often tend to discard the balance between design and function, creating gorgeous data visualizations which fail to serve its main purpose — communicate information.”
- For those who really like graphics, check out the New York Times Feature: “2012: A year in graphics”– it shows the power of great journalism, great data sets and a knack for creating compelling images.
- Visual.ly is a clearing house of some of the most creative visualizations.
- Fast Company’s list of 2013’s most beautiful data visualizations is inspiring. The images straddle the line between art and information.
- Gizmodo’s list of best data visualizations for 2013 is interesting as well.
- Follow and join the SAP Data Geek Challenge