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All you need to know about Data visualization

The human brain has a weakness for visual aids. It captures 80% of the information through the image. It processes visual data 60,000 times faster than numbers and texts. Today over 90% of communication is non-verbal.

Our brain understands more quickly through a visual aid that requires less work. Looking at a picture helps it to digest more complex data than if we were reading text or a number table. The brain works visually; it eliminates the superfluous and extracts only useful information.

Modern data visualization began to flourish in the 20th century. It's a technique that comes right after data preparation. It aims to make several pieces of information accessible and understandable through visual representations. Data visualization allows raw data to be communicated by transforming it into visual graphs that are easy to read at a glance.

Due to this practice, the exploration and analysis of data are facilitated. They are ergonomically shaped and colored so that the main information is obvious. Data visualization allows complex information to be brought to light, unlike a table with figures or a written report. The visual representations used in data visualization can be varied: graphs, pie charts, diagrams, cartographies, frieze, infographics, etc.


The DataViz (short for Data Visualization) is Anglicism, which refers to techniques for the visual form to present data in order to facilitate the understanding and/or analysis. 

Forms of data visualization

The data visualization can take many forms, such as simple graphics, such as those that you realize Excel. By adding a scenario to these graphics, we transform them into infographic, static, or interactive. There are also INTERACTIVE DASHBOARDS that allow you to "manage" activity at a glance using key data. Heat maps are also a form of data visualization.


Data visualization is generally defined as the shaping of raw data in an aesthetic language to facilitate its transmission, understanding, and appropriation. In this sense, we understand that data visualization was not invented in the era of Big Data but has existed for centuries.

From the fourteenth century, the theologian RAYMOND LULLE imagined science trees to share the most simple, to the greatest number of scientific principles.

Raymond Lulle's Tree of Knowledge 

In the 19th century, engineer and economist WILLIAM PLAYFAIR invented 3 data visualizations that we still use today: the histogram, the circular diagram, and the chronological evolution curve. This data visualization pioneer then wanted to graphically represent the economic situation in the United Kingdom. 

The Playfair diagram

Today, our new data creation and consumption behaviors which have generated the rise of Big Data: the existing mass of data is gigantic. We must now think about interactive data visualization: being able to display the data that we want, refine the level of detail, select a specific period. This is how data visualization has modernized and is now becoming a full-fledged communication medium.

Data visualization: what are the challenges?

From data visualization to governance  

Data visualization is increasingly used in business to cope with massive data creation and processing difficulties. The main issue of data visualization is clearly the saving of time in the research and analysis of information. The goal is to improve decision making.

Due to data visualization solutions and tools, access to data in companies is faster, more understandable, and extended to the greatest number of people. Data visualization helps to understand trends, prevent threats, and identify opportunities for a company.

It aims to bring together a large amount of hierarchical data on a single screen by highlighting the key indicators of activity. The managers of each department are thus able to identify correlations between the objectives, the performances, and the actions carried out by their teams at a glance. Data visualization, therefore, plays a major role in governance and activity management by supporting the various decision-making of directors and managers.

An element of communication

Today, data visualization is no longer used only in business but everywhere in our daily life in a fun way. This powerful tool for democratizing access to data is tending to become a communication tool in its own right. For instance, there is a banking application, health, sport, journalism, and others. Dataviz is already regularly used to send us information. 

Some specialist services like Visual.ly also offer stylized rendering models of website statistics data in the form of infographics, which can be useful in presenting these statistics in a more impactful way to a non-specialist audience.

The right data is the one that is useful to a given audience.

Note, however, that DataViz will have to adapt to the target audience. Thus, if the analysis and visualization of Google Analytics curves are useful for the web manager, it is not relevant for communicating with the general management, which will need simple indicators and comparative data to be able to judge the status of the strategic plan. There are also real-time web dashboards of the “trading room” type to equip the premises of a company.

The Importance of Data Visualization in the Age of Big Data

How many times have we seen graphs or read a report, without understanding its content? Data visualization has become a key element to communicate and make information transparent, impacting people's decisions.

In any decisive process, visualizing the meaning of numbers versus contemplating them in a spreadsheet will change our experience as users, developers, clients, or consultants. Reading will never be the same as seeing or interacting with information. 


Most of the time, when we talk about data, we mean numbers. Data Mining is the analysis and modeling of large data repositories (Big Data), and involves areas of knowledge such as artificial intelligence, statistics, machine learning, visualization, etc. which is the fundamental part when communicating is visualization.

The charts, infographics, timelines, and many other tools that are constantly developing generate an understanding difficult to match. Viewing a map, a table, and even a list of ideas arranged vertically improves understanding. For this reason, in the era of thousands of gigabytes of data that every day increases in the world, correctly viewing information is vital for citizens and users. 

Visualize what's important

Differences of law throughout history, or corporate statistics versus utilities and new services, no matter what, the main thing is that it is understandable, despite containing thousands of figures.

To achieve that, there is data analysis software. These help to build visual or multimedia content from tables of data generally processed in spreadsheets.

Programming systems such as Python, Stata or RStudio, facilitate the transfer of numerical tables to graphic displays that allow them to be used in reports, publications, or presentations. We cannot expose a table with thousands of cells, but we can expose a graph with an analysis of them. In this way, in a single place, the software processes the information for its subsequent descriptive visual publication. 

There are also other online software tools designed to be used by journalists, communicators, or educators, which allow the creation of graphs, timelines, 3D visualizations, and maps (among others). The idea is to capture the user and allow her to be part of the narrative in a more interactive format.

The Knight Lab at Northwestern University is an example of how a communications school took on the challenges of Big Data, bringing together different disciplines for the development of visualization platforms.

Its tools, which are created by a multidisciplinary team, are open-source mechanisms designed for the media or dissemination, which allow information to be made transparent to the public.

Large newspapers in the world use visualization tools in their digital format to simplify their news. These allow a greater understanding of the citizenry in the face of changes. The story of a president, or the effects of a tornado, has a greater impact when people can see the consequences with "their own eyes." 

Transparency and probity 

Data visualization is extremely helpful for open data policies and friendly interfaces. In 2011, the UN launched the Open Government Partnership (OGP) or Alliance for Open Government with a focus on data transparency. 

The Internet is the main ally to achieve these objectives. The improvement of government platforms allows information to be made transparent and easier to access. Government portals, still under development in many countries, give access to laws, fines, criminal proceedings, statistics, and many other aspects related to each country and its community, the problem is how they have this information.

Initially, the government portals had large databases, not very collaborative with citizen participation because the material was only downloadable, with tables of raw data, which not everyone knows. The Chilean data platforms and the Transparency Portal are examples of this type of data access: basically, they are spreadsheets to download and analyze.

However, the active participation of citizens needs friendly data. And the visualization tools are exactly that. They allow achieving greater incidence through the sample of simple, striking, and processed information.

Two examples of Chilean platforms with well-implemented visualization are: Data Entrepreneurship (from the National Development Corporation), adopts the principles of visualization using timelines, maps, and graphs that improve the user experience when searching for information. Even more advanced is the Data Chile interfaceData visualization, which gathers information from different Chilean organizations using interactive visualizations and stories.

The data should be available for everyone to use. Not just for academic or expert reviews. A correct visualization has the power to change our way of thinking. It even makes persuasion easier. The saying "seeing is believing" is still valid.

Author: Vicki Lezama

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