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Two schools of thought on data visualization

What became very clear at the Data Visualization Summit was that there are two very distinct groups talking about completely different things but both calling it Data Visualization.

We have the group of people who wish to convey a message to the uninitiated audience quickly, easily and attractively. The key word here is "uninitiated"; those people who have little or no previous knowledge of the visualised subject matter. This is obviously necessary in journalism, marketing or simply informing the general public but it's not new. In fact, this type of data visualization is older than the written word. People were doing cave paintings thousands of years ago, detailing the animals they hunted, the plants that grew locally, the weapons they used..... Is that not data visualization?

The other group interested in Data Visualization is the group that is plotting the ever increasing mountain of data in an ever increasing number of ways in order to try and make better sense of it. The purpose is to spot trends and identify relationships in order to gain knowledge, steer marketing campaigns, find problems or errors in manufacturing processes, give direction to research and much more. Apart from the excellent presentation by Kenneth Cuckier from the Economist this type of visualization wasn't even mentioned. If you're looking for this type of data visualization then contact us and we'll help you try to makes sense of your data.

My conclusion is that I'll probably continue to be frustrated as long as the two types of data visualization are called the same thing. The only similarities between them are that pictures speak a thousand words and we are going to be increasingly dependent on them in the future in order to try and understand the world around us.

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