For decades, visualization has taken a prominent but still somewhat quiet back-seat to written and spoken communication, at least in terms of how we perceive it: as an approach that requires more effort than is worth the return or clarity; as something to be done with simple data, for snapshots of business growth or mathematical change; or, as an unnecessary but aesthetically pleasing format.
But the roots of human communication are rich with visuals. Cave drawings, kanji, hieroglyphics — even sign language and braille — all speak to the massive power of illustration and the limitless ways it can translate information. And, as unmatched technology emerges, the popularity of data visualization is thriving.
Recently, Maria Popova of Brain Pickings named 21 Heroes of Data Visualization. My 5 favorites are below, but the full slideshow of amazing vis-masters can be found here.
1. The Shortest Path Tree of Seattle by Brandon Martin-Anderson
This representation of Seattle’s bicycle and walking paths was derived from the Open Street Map of Seattle. Martin-Anderson has developed these artistic interpretations for a number of U.S. cities, and more will likely follow.
2. Connected Places by Neil Freeman
This piece, which shows connecting lines linking identically named U.S. cities, towns, and villages, was created by artist and urban planner Neil Freeman.
3. The Luxury of Protest by Peter Crnokrak
The Luxury of Protest illustrates the degree to which each UN state contributes to peace (this data is shown on the poster’s “A-side”) or terror (the “B-side”).
4. Finished Symphony by Patrick Gunderson
A visual depiction of the song “Finished Symphony” by Hybrid, an electronic band based in Swansea, Wales.
5. Form Follows Data by Iohanna Pani
Pani, an industrial design student, creates physical objects using real-world statistical information. This coffee mug represents the amount of coffee she consumed every morning for one week.
Data visualization is quickly becoming the go-to approach for interpreting the world, and will continue to evolve as a rich, vital method of gathering and showing information. Says Popova: “At the intersection of art and algorithm, data visualization schematically abstracts information to bring about a deeper understanding of the data, wrapping it in an element of awe.”