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The Rise of Data Visualisations

Words:

Edd Norval
October 6, 2020

Right at the intersection of art, science, technology and design are data visualisations, a rare place where creativity and function meet to have a clear impact on our way of seeing the world. As a design trend, they’re getting more popular, useful and genuinely interesting. Their popularity and purpose looks set to keep growing.

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There’s a multitude of reasons for these graphics becoming a more important part of daily life for many. First, it’s that they’re more possible than ever. Data is being collected at a rate never before imagined in human history, mainly through social media and online shopping outlets, building up pictures of who we are as people, but also as groups and nations, making us target demographics.


It’s not just people, though. There’s data on almost everything. Planes, sports, hobbies. Everything we say, do, watch and buy contributes to this giant pool of information stored in data farms - vast temperature controlled warehouses situated all around the world, requiring the amount of energy equivalent to entire cities.


So, now that people have access to the information, what do they do with it? Initially, the privilege of access was mainly reserved for governments and corporations, but data protection and a better general understanding of the principles of data have allowed almost anyone - with the requisite know-how - to gain access. Still, what can we actually do with all this data?

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Data visualisation tools, like Tableu, openheatmap, Leaflet and Datawrapper, utilising Javascript and Python - two coding ‘languages’ that an increasing number of people are becoming ‘fluent’ in - are more popular than ever, being incorporated into business presentations, sports analysis and, in a wider context, are finding a home on the internet as part of a new wave of design. 


Secondly, and the key part of data visualisation’s growth, is because people want to see them. The proliferation of vast swathes of information on our newsfeeds can be overwhelming. A lot of places are saying very little with a lot of words and actions. Data visualisations, on the other hand, can communicate huge amounts of information in a very brief, concise and visually appealing manner. 


They cut through the clutter of our newsfeeds, often enlightening people to large-scale trends that otherwise would take great resources to understand. These charts offer up an opportunity to understand something far greater than ourselves - that can either impact us, or even something that we are unknowingly a part of.

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Some, like the global population counter tools, are eye-opening. A simple click and we can see the rapid incline in population growth right in front of our eyes. Others are far more niche, like the usage of ‘happy birthday’, ‘to you’ and ‘dear (name)’ in the happy birthday song by percentage (for those interested, the breakdown is 50%, 37.5% and 12.5%). 


Some are incredibly useful, like coronavirus indicators and various other visualisations in the health and science sectors. People are both paying attention to data visualisation, whilst making sure to have fun with it too and we’re at the perfect moment in history to do it. 


Big data is a serious problem in many ways - particularly how it is harvested without our knowledge and explicit consent. With these informational and entertaining ways to see our data in use, there is at least a silver lining as we strive towards better laws for data protection to make sure our information is used where we allow it to be, not by corporations with the intention of using it for profit. With these visualisations, we see the potential for good that data has in the right hands.

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