Chapter 2

Visualization: The Medium

Visualization has been around for centuries, but it is relatively new as a field of study, and experts in the area haven’t even decided what exactly visualization is yet. Should it be used for only analysis? Is visualization specifically for quantitative insights, or can you use it to evoke emotions? At what point does visualization—a field deeply rooted in, well, visual things—become art?

The answers to these questions vary between who you ask. The questions have created heated debates within and in between subject areas, and this is just amongst the academics and practitioners.

I was on a consulting gig at a large, data-centric organization because it wanted to inject more visualization into its work. It wanted the public to know what it was doing and wanted to improve its existing work in reports and data summaries, along with tools within the organization.

So I was in a meeting with about 40 people, which was a diverse group of marketers, developers, and statisticians. The group worked on a variety of projects, from quick, made-for-blog graphics to interactive data exploration tools. We were discussing an online application, and part of the group felt there should be more editorial content on what the data was about, whereas another part insisted that any interpretation should be left to the users. A few others leaned toward graphics that looked like abstract paintings. The ideas for visualization were all over the place, and a long argument ...

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