Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Data Visualization

Just finished reading “Envisioning Information, The visual Display of Quantitative Information”, from Edward Tufte (first edition I just realized, got to check the second edition!)

Tufte shows how information can be condensed, transformed, made visible.
From 3D environment to 2D picture, from n-dimensional arrays to 2 dimensional maps, envisioning the other dimensions becomes a crucial task for designers.

The book

It is a book full of wonderful maps and graphics showing different, unique ways to visualize data. The chapter titles are an indicator of the main categories:
  1. escaping flatland
  2. micro/macro readings
  3. layering and separation
  4. small multiples
  5. color and information
  6. narratives of space and time.
From complex train schedules from espionage to regular maps, from lists to dance pattern manuals, Tufte picked a wide variety to show what is possible in envisioning quantitative data.


I am missing some digital information, some more technical displays. How about oscillation, how about the interactive displays with mouse overs on the net or with flash? Might be difficult to show in a book, but this is a strong limitation. Would be great if there could be an "interactive 2 D envisioning" addendum on the net to this book.

Application in Web Analytics

Sure, I had quite some ideas how this could be used for web graphics and especially for the display of data in web analytics.

Just one example. Why not make a real map out of the sitemap?
  • map=sitemap
  • country=pages
  • rivers=paths
  • hight=pageviews
  • population=conversion
There are quite some analogies and it might be helpful to users to depict it in a pattern each of us learned to read in school. On top, it might give us insight into patterns we cannot see looking at plain 2D maps or data tables.

The book:

Tufte, Edward R., Envisioning Information, subtitle The visual Display of Qantitative Information, 1990. More details and some pictures from inside from the author.

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