Guest Blog: Allard Roeterink - Why would Information visualisation be useful for companies?
Collecting immense amounts of data is no longer the monopoly of researchers; many companies have started collecting data too; about clients, production, distribution, efficiency and all the like. The problem with these rapidly growing data mountains is that they need to be processed and analysed to be useful. This is where data visualisation could play a significant role. Or even three roles: In short, data visualisation can be used to explore complex data sets, to monitor and adjust the collection of data or to communicate insights from these data.
The added value of visualising complex information is rather obvious, considering how quickly laymen are able to grasp the weather forecast from a graph, while they are not likely to understand the actual data collected by the weather stations. Similarly, the exchange rates and stock market values are more accessible as visuals than as long lists of numbers. Look for example at this amazingly understandable Map of the Market, which not only offers a complete overview of the stock market, but also allows for interactive exploration of share details.
Even the ones collecting large data sets are not always aware of the potential of their numbers. Interactive visualisation tools can help them to explore, filter and analyze the vast quantities of numbers collected. When the variables can be visually compared, unnoticed trends often emerge out of the inaccessible rows. It is wonderful to see how visualizing the data allows for new perspectives. The example above (Energy Potential in Brabant, Freek Gerritsen, 2010) is an interactive tool developed by students of Avans CMD Breda to display alternative energy sources for researchers. It allowed them to see the relations between their measurements while playing with the data.
The emergence of trends can lead to a second advantage of data visualisation. As with most research, additional data is often needed during the initial phase of data collection. In hindsight, the wrong input was measured or essential details were simply missing. This is hard to avoid, as knowledge about the matter generally develops over time. But when it means redoing the measurements or changing the setup completely, it could become a time and money consuming exercise. If the researchers can compare and analyze their data while still collecting, it could speed up the entire process.
The example above is a simple graph of all the deaths by drone attacks in Pakistan over past few years. [Source: http://drones.pitchinteractive.com/] The sheer numbers of civilians and especially children can easily be understood be everyone.
Images indeed speak louder than, well, numbers.
By Allard Roeterink
After graduating as an industrial designer, Allard's focus has shifted from product and interface design to installation and information design. At AvansCMD Breda he coordinates and teaches Visualizing Information, in whichstudents are challenged to find innovative ways to display complex
information in various media. Allard also teaches Product Behaviour and Interactive Prototyping. He gives science workshops to primary school classesand loves to build toys from trash with kids.
The third added value of visualization becomes relevant after the analysis of the findings. If the results are clear to the insiders, it doesn’t automatically mean that others will understand them quickly. Human vision is extraordinarily capable of processing a lot of information from a simple image. If the designer does his job well, there is a lot that can be communicated through data visualization, as the example below shows.