What is Information Visualization?

July 19, 2018 Author: munishmishra04_3od47tgp
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There are several situations in the real world where we try to understand some phenomena, data, and events by graphics. People considerate the world is driven by our access to information. So, we collect it on our finances, health, sporting events of interest to us. In fact, we collect it on pretty much anything we can think of. It’s almost to the point where we are overwhelmed by the volume. Some would say it’s not worth much, and they’d be right! We need some means to glean understanding from this excess of information. One way we might do that is through information visualization. Information Visualization is essential reading for researchers and practitioners of information visualization and is of interest to computer scientists and data analysts working on related specialisms.

Definition of Information Visualization

Information visualization focuses on the development and empirical analysis of methods for presenting abstract information in visual form. The visual display of information allows people to become more easily aware of essential facts, to quickly see regularities and outliers in data, and therefore to develop a deeper understanding of data. Interactive visualization additionally takes advantage of people’s ability to also identify interesting facts when the visual display changes, and allows them to manipulate the visualization or the underlying data to explore such changes.

Information visualization is the process of representing data in a visual and meaningful way so that a user can better understand it. Dashboards and scatter plots are common examples of information visualization. Via its depicting an overview and showing relevant connections, information visualization allows users to draw insights from abstract data in an efficient and effective manner.

Information Visualization, as a field, is exploding in popularity. Whether it’s a new take on the humble bar chart, a choropleth in a news article, or an interactive replay of events over time, visualizations are the new way to get and hold people’s attention. Sometimes these visualizations are easy to whip up in a spreadsheet or online tool, other times they require powerful computation efforts and weeks of design to evoke the proper resulting product. Whether you’re designing, building, or just appreciating visualizations, there are some key concepts that make up all good visualizations. A good visualization tells a story, makes an impact, relays information, and is interdisciplinary.

Information Visualization

Figure: Information Visualization

Significance of Information Visualization

Information visualization is becoming increasingly interactive, especially when used in a website or application. Being interactive allows for manipulation of the visualization by users, making it highly effective in catering to their needs. With interactive information visualization, users are able to view topics from different perspectives, and manipulate their visualizations of these until they reach the desired insights. This is especially useful if users require an explorative experience.

Information visualization plays an important role in making data digestible and turning raw information into actionable insights. It draws from the fields of human-computer interaction, visual design, computer science, and cognitive science, among others. Examples include world map-style representations, line graphs, and 3-D virtual building or town plan designs.

The process of creating information visualization typically starts with understanding the information needs of the target user group. Qualitative research (e.g., user interviews) can reveal how, when, and where the visualization will be used. Taking these insights, a designer can determine which form of data organization is needed for achieving the users’ goals. Once information is organized in a way that helps users understand it better—and helps them apply it so as to reach their goals—visualization techniques are the next tools a designer brings out to use. Visual elements (e.g., maps and graphs) are created, along with appropriate labels, and visual parameters such as color, contrast, distance, and size are used to create an appropriate visual hierarchy and a visual path through the information.

Information visualization is the process of translating collected information into visual terms. Its purpose is to convert a large volume of raw data into something that can be quickly and easily understood. Think back to the temperature map on the morning’s newscast. Did the visuals give you a better idea of the how the temperatures in the area were tracking than the raw values would have? This is an example of information visualization at work. Raw weather information is converted to imagery which is converted to understanding.

Tools Used for Information Visualization

There are a vast array of Information Visualization tools available today. There are way too many to list here. Some of the more notable ones include:

  • WolframAlpha– This is a competitor to Google in some respects. This site calls itself a ‘computational knowledge engine’ and has an affinity for displaying charts without prior setup.
  • Tableau– This is a user driven chart, graph, and mapping tool that provides real-time update and display capabilities.
  • js– This is an open-source programmatic charting tool (library) that is popular among hobbyists and those with small projects.
  • js– This is a JavaScript library that provides some amazing diagrammatic capabilities, and is the clear choice for more serious visualization projects.
  • Google Charts– With the prominence of Google, it stands to reason that their charting package would be a serious contender in the web visualization space.
  • Microsoft Excel: Many people don’t realize it, but in addition to number crunching, excel is also good at visualization and provides a number of charting and plotting capabilities


[1] “Information Visualization”, available online at: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/information-visualization

[2] David Diehl, “What is Information Visualization?” available online at: https://www.seguetech.com/what-information-visualization/

[3] “Information Visualization: Tools & Techniques: Chapter 14/Lesson 10”, available online at: https://study.com/academy/lesson/information-visualization-tools-techniques.html

[4] Mazza, Riccardo. “Introduction to information visualisation.” Faculty of Communication Sciences, University of Lugano (2004).

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