Graphs and visual representations are not new to us, however they have changed the way we consume big data irrevocably. Let’s start at one of the earliest instances where, in the form of a map, visualisation helped to make sense of a devastating event that defied human understanding, the London cholera outbreaks of 1854. Wrong or ineffectual theories as to the source of the sickness were doing their rounds, carving racial and classist divides as they went. However, it took one man and his irrefutable data in graphical form to lay to rest the rumours and expose the truth.
John Snow, an apprentice in Newcastle, performed a survey to chart where cholera deaths had occurred. He plotted them on a map, later known as The Ghost Map*, showing clearly that most cases originated along the Thames. These were more affluent areas, which completely contradicted all the unfounded theories that the source of the outbreak was the fault of the lower classes.
Graphical representations have brought clarity and insight into our big data ever since, with businesses relying on them to interpret trends and make smarter choices going forward.
Data visualisations now and in the future
Data visualisations have been woven into our everyday lives, as they are the quickest way to communicate the ‘story’ of a complex set of big data without needing to over-explain. Recently we saw how the results of the last municipal election were shared live using an interactive map. It was from this that we could see how powerful graphical representations of data can be. At a glance we could determine which party had garnered the most votes in certain metros, easily compare that year’s results to two previous years, and make informed predictions for the following years. Read more about this >>
The application of visualisations is evolving and so we see new and adventurous forms that explore data in motion; such as statistical visuals that move and play out like short movies, depicting data in a living timeline. The near future will bring graphs that enable you to interact with your data in ways you can scarcely imagine, such as through augmented reality technologies.
The similarities between art and graphical data representations
Have you ever asked yourself why visual data representations work so well over the ages? Humans are visual; history shows how we have always been drawn to art, patterns, and photographs. Like art, visualisations transgress major barriers, making data and insights instantly accessible to anyone whether they are a whizz with numbers or even speak the same language! It is also because it elicits a response of understanding and communication, and this interactiveness (of a well-executed visual in reporting) makes it more like art.
The visual elements of Power BI help to create reports and dashboards that are as beautiful as they are informative; a crucial tool that is geared for building graphs and visual representations that are context-aware and fully customisable. Numbers will always be the blank canvas, but graphical representations will bring the data’s story to life through art.
*Reference: THE GHOST MAP, STEVEN JOHNSON