What is Data Visualization?

“Data Visualization” is a broad term that describes the transforming of typically numerical data into something more visual. While a variety of terms are related to data visualization–information design, graphic design, infographics, and similar terms–the idea of data visualization is usually limited to the creation of basic charts and graphs. Oftentimes data researchers or designers use software programs like Microsoft Excel or Adobe Illustrator to turn tabular data (numbers that are often collected in a table) into visual representations like pie charts, line graphs, or related diagrams.

Why do we visualize data?

Research has repeatedly shown that nearly all human beings learn better with visuals. When researchers collect data that includes a lot of numbers, it isn’t always easy to understand what the numbers mean by themselves. But when the numbers are placed visually in comparison to others in a pie chart, for example, people can make nearly immediate understanding of the numbers’ importance. Compare these two representations of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Time Use Survey:

As you can see, the numbers in the table on the left are fairly obscure. However, when placed in a simple pie chart, the information becomes much more digestible and comparisons can quickly be made.

Which chart should I use to visualize my information?

For a quick reference guide, see our handy guide, “Which Chart Should I Use?” Otherwise, you might review twenty-five of the more common data visualizations at your disposal. Here’s a quick list: