What does interactive data visualization really achieve? Does it have a real benefit? Or is it mostly an opportunity for designers to show off or have a bit of fun?
It’s not difficult for many people to recognize the value of professional data analysis. Our statisticians wade into complex situations and gather vast quantities of numbers that seem, at first glance, impossible to comprehend. And then we apply all kinds of reasoning and rules to them to produce results: interpreting the seemingly unintelligible.
But as a rule, interactive data visualizations don’t look complex. Looking at Parable of the Polygons, you might even find yourself saying, “Well I could have made that.”
So what is the point?
Meet Maarten Lambrechts
Maarten Lambrechts is a talented data viz designer whose work we really admire. He recently sat down with Lisa Charlotte Rost (another person we fan over) about the value of interactive data visualization and why viz is not merely a toy or game. (I highly encourage you to listen to the whole conversation.)
“The reward of interacting with an explorable explanation is knowledge, is insight, is understanding.”
– Maarten Lambrechts
In the interview, Lambrechts and Rost cite a number of great examples of interactive data visualization being used as more than just a gimmick. And it’s not just for us data nerds, either. Interactive viz can help your team — big or small — achieve a number of goals.
Whether you’re fundraising or just trying to draw attention to your work, visual representations of your data have a power that mere numbers lack.
Maarten Lambrecht’s Rock and Poll visualization
An interactive data visualization is attention-grabbing and impressive to look at. But it’s more than that. Letting your audience manipulate graphics that represent statistics allows them to mentally convert abstract concepts into something more concrete and tangible. It transforms what might otherwise be an impenetrable wall of numbers into something interesting and meaningful.
Data relationships are often complex. They can be challenging enough for those of us with a background in statistics to understand — and downright opaque for those without.
Using data visualization can help you convey complicated data relationships to your audience. Making your viz interactive allows them to clearly see how changing different points will affect your system as a whole. Explorable explanations, as Lambrechts and Rost call them, provide your audience with an understanding of your data as a complete environment.
“They educate people not by just combining text and static graphics, but by integrating interactives. So people can really play with what they’re learning; with what they’re seeing. People can learn something without realizing they are learning something.”
– Maarten Lambrechts
The general public aren’t the only ones who stand to understand data better when it’s presented visually. Often experts and people intimately familiar with the statistics being analyzed can benefit from a new perspective. Exploratory data analysis can be incredibly useful for:
- Identifying errors or missing data
- Spotting outliers
- Checking assumptions or testing theories
- Identifying which variables are most significant
Don’t discount the value of interactive data visualization for your own team. It can be so much more than just something shiny to attract the attention of your audience.
Need Help with Interactive Data Visualization?
If you’d like to harness the power of interactive data viz to inspire your audience, explain your work, or better understand the numbers you’re working with, the Datassist team is here to help. Drop us a line to discuss your project.