Effective Data Visualization

Much like charts and tables, data visualization can be both effective and ineffective. Its goal in the most basic sense is to present data, much like a table or a chart, but it attempts to do this in a more visually stimulating way than your standard bar graph or stripped down table. If the data is not particularly dense, it can be a much better way to show an idea. One of the examples of graphs we looked at showed the price of a barrel of oil and how it has gone up over the years. The price was represented by actual barrels of oil, and as the price went up, the barrel grew in size. This isn’t particularly the most effective way to show that price per barrel is rising, but it gives a general idea of it in an interesting way. If the article is less focused on the raw data and facts, and rather focuses on analysis or something about how culture or society has adjusted to oil price raises, this type of data presentation is very good.

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I pulled this map off a website called creativebloq.com and was under their article The 33 best tools for data visualization. This is a good example of how data visualization is actually very effective. A table could show which states each president came from, or which states produced the most presidents, a chart could do this as well. We’ve seen this done a hundred times and it’s just no longer exciting or interesting. For this picture, it shows a portrait of each president and which state he was born in. This is much more attention grabbing, obviously. But it also has it’s worth beyond aesthetics– it shows how concentrated the area from which most presidents come from is. Generally, they are all from the East Coast, with a few from Texas. One was born in California, and obviously Obama was born in Hawaii. It shows how the East Coast has monopolized the presidency and how the western US is not represented in the White House at all. 

That said, this type of visualization has it’s limit. If you asked where Franklin Pierce was born, you couldn’t find the info from this picture. You could say he was born on the East Coast, probably somewhere in New England, but something like this definitely fails at showing and highlighting the specifics that tables and graphs are far stronger at illustrating. For some essays, data visualization can present data into a visually stimulating representation. For an academic paper or something that isn’t for entertainment purposes, a table or chart will always be preferred. 

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3 thoughts on “Effective Data Visualization

  1. I’d agree with you that the standard charts and graphs are becoming somewhat mundane, they are no longer that interesting (unless, of course, they pertain to your area of interest). I never really thought of data visualization as a way to break past this. It is definitely more eye-catching than a simple chart and, if done correctly/honestly, can present the data in a more interesting way. I think you’re right that data visualization can’t always be used, and that for academic papers simpler tables and charts are preferred. I wonder if this will change, if data visualization (more than just the oil example or some of the other examples we’ve seen) will become more common in academic papers.

    • I agree that this visualization is pretty limited; I suppose for an interactive chart, where you could select the individual presidents for more details, it wouldn’t be so bad. Nonetheless, the argument seems straightforward enough. Barack Obama is the geographic “outlier” here who forces the map to zoom out so much from it’s main focus interest area. Perhaps that illustrates how unique his presidency really is; for the creator of this visualization, this outlier conflicts with the trend, but perhaps that was exactly what he or she was trying to display!

  2. Interactive maps are very interesting and have lots of applications in book history, too! This is a cool choice.

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