In today’s world, there is just an abundance of information. How are we expected to process and absorb all this information when there is just more and more to remember and learn? Well, there is a very effective tool we can use to help us remember information, put information into a context and help us find patterns within data. These tools are called visualisations, which are visual images or a mental image that is similar to a visual perception.
Sometimes our minds cannot pick up on data that is in a table, full of figures and numbers. What do these numbers actually mean? Is it good or bad? We need to put these numbers in a context that we can understand. Using visualisations is a very effective method for doing this. For example, if someone said there are 3,200 tigers left in the world, that figure doesn’t mean much if you’re not aware of how many tigers used to be here 40 years ago. Then, if someone told you that 40,000 tigers existed in 1970, that gives you a clearer understanding that the number of tigers that exist have rapidly declined in the past 40 years. But to illustrate further and allow people to understand how drastic this decline is, a visualisation becomes a very effective tool. Take a look at the visualisation below. It puts things into perspective and makes evident how seriously endangered tigers are:
Depicts 3200 toy tigers (the frame of the image), equal to the estimated number of tigers remaining on Earth. The space in the middle would hold 40,000 of these tigers, equal to the global tiger population in 1970.
Zoomed in: The frame of the above visualisation.
Video form of Chris Jordan’s Tiger Visualisation:
Visualisations create an association between data and the external world. That is why they’re so important. Raw data means nothing to people if they can’t see how it relates to the world they live in. Visualisations are able to bridge the gap between data and its relation to the world.
In terms of science visualisations, they allow us to visualize things that we wouldn’t ordinarily see, such as microscopic organisms, geology simulations and human anatomy for example. It’s very useful for scientific research as visualisations strengthen our knowledge in areas that we otherwise wouldn’t have known and understood. The link below provides a visualisation of the human brain:
Visualisations affect the way we interpret information. They give us a greater understanding of how things function, gives us insight into any patterns that are evident (but make it much easier to see these patterns visually) and put things into perspective and help us see the bigger picture. They also make the invisible, visible. For example, telling us how much carbon dioxide is in the Earth’s atmosphere doesn’t mean much to people within the ‘public sphere’ because there’s context. But if a graph shows the level of carbon dioxide has increased over the last 50 years, it puts the data into a context, and from this we can see the level is increasing every decade, allowing us to see that the current carbon dioxide levels have been unsafe since the mid 80s.
Another major advantage with visualisations is that they keep us intrigued and interested in what the data is trying to tell us. For example, RSA use very effective visualisations during lectures on various topics. I was fascinated with the level of technique involved in creating such a unique visualisation and it definitely kept me listening when usually I would’ve diverted my attention somewhere else after a while. Below is a visualisation of a lecture about language.
Visualisations allow data to be assembled into one image that can easily be interpreted, making it easier to absorb and remember information. The human brain will always find it easier to remember an image rather than figures and facts in the form of words and numbers. With today’s world having more information than ever available, it’s no wonder visualisations are becoming more popular.
Anon. (2009) ‘Data Visualization Activism: Showing the Trends in Global Temperature’, Information Aesthetics: where form follows data, <http://infosthetics.com/archives/2009/12/ data_visualization_activism_showing_trends_in_global_temperature.html>
Anon. (2009) ‘The Global Warming Skeptics versus the Scientific Consensus’, Information is Beautiful, <http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/climate-change-deniers-vs-the-consensus/>
The co2now blog, <http://co2now.org/>
Leggett, Hadley, (2009) “Best Science Visualization Videos of 2009′, <http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/08/visualizations/>
RSA visualisations, <http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/videos/>