The Importance of Data Visualization

Instructor: Temitayo Odugbesan

Temitayo has 11+ years Industrial Experience in Information Technology and has a master's degree in Computer Science.

In this lesson, we examine what data visualization is. We see the impact it has on conveying information from large, text-based data sources. We examine its evolution and importance today.

Data Visualization Defined

Data visualization is the term used to describe the process of helping people better understand the significance of data presented by transforming that data into a visual context. Data such as statistical analysis, patterns, correlations, and trends that hold information that might be less distinct in text-based formats can be made more manifest and easily recognizable in visual form.

The evolution of the computer has greatly impacted this trend with its software applications having the ability to generate pictures, illustrations, graphs, charts, animations, maps, and other forms of sophisticated visuals. Simply put, data visualization uses pictures to understand data.

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Visual images make a greater impact in learning and remembering than text formats. Visuals add a component to understanding that text cannot, and that is speed.

Why Data Visualization?

  • Quick and easy way to convey information

Visualization is mainly used for one thing - story telling. It can communicate more information than a table within less space.

Consider the following example:

Question: Looking at the following table, what month recorded the highest sales?

Month Jan Feb Mar April May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
Sales 52.23 59.35 95.23 59.87 82.00 65.23 35.26 25.84 85.14 52.45 65.24 98.25

Yes, December! but, that took you a few seconds to discern.

Looking at a visual representation of the data:


You get the information in 2 seconds.

  • Aids decision-making

Decisions are not made in thin air, but informed decisions are made from data and information that one has access to. Accurate information used in data visualization tools fuel better decision-making in an organization. The accuracy of the data feed minimizes any distortion in the information generated through data visualization. Data must be continually and dynamically updated to ensure that decision-making is kept as relevant as possible.

Example: Weather report

Consider areas of the United States that have 'tornado seasons'. Lives depend on the accuracy of the dynamically updated weather reports being broadcast as storms rage across vulnerable geographical locations. Emergency services are dependent on the accuracy of the weather trends observed. These reports distinguish who needs to evacuate from who needs to go to their basements, literally, who lives or who dies if they don't move!

  • Manipulation and dynamic interaction with data

Bringing actionable insights to dynamically changing data through data interaction is one of the biggest advantages of data visualization against piles of tables and statistics. With appropriately implemented visualization tools, for example, the sales of a clothing store can be analyzed.

It is observed that certain vibrant African fabrics sales are down, even though the summer months should record the highest, and school children sales have increased. If we were using tables and text-based data, and with the summer lasting three months, a two-week old text report could be obsolete.

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