Data Visualization: Then and Now

Data visualization is a hot topic. Business leaders in a variety of industries are learning about and making room for infographics in their public relations, marketing and advertising plans. Infographics are a great tactic when large concepts or amounts of information need simplification – not omission – to increase message accessibility and absorption within key publics.

Alex Lundry, VP and Director of Research at TargetPoint, explains that “we should expect to see more visualizations used for messaging purposes … And add visual thinking to our citizenship toolkit.”

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In a 2011 interview with The European, visionary George Dyson claimed, “Information is cheap, but meaning is expensive.” With tsunamis of input – compliments of the digital age – bombarding our daily lives, it is increasingly difficult to distill data. It is even more difficult to find meaning within all of that data.

Though I refer to data visualization as a ‘hot topic,’ that is not to say that it is a new topic. The search for meaning in a sea of information has been a challenge throughout history.

Infographic: Library of Congress via The New Yorker

The above infographic came to my attention via Gareth Cook’s recent article in The New Yorker. Cook describes President Lincoln’s “Slave Map” as heavily shaded in regions with a high slave population.

By cross-referencing demographics with region, Lincoln was able to see opportunities for pro-Union support in the South.

This simple infographic allowed Lincoln to view the South as a political landscape. And it afforded him a meaningful and, therefore, useful context. The states were no longer simply Union or Confederate; their individual complexities became a source of hope.

Like Lundry, Dyson and Lincoln, we are appreciators of information. But what we truly desire is meaning. And data visualization helps us transform chaos into clarity.


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November 8, 2013 · 9:57 pm

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