Big Data Visualization: Even Pictures Have Their Limits
A recent newspaper article suggests that text-based emails are “short-circuiting” our cognitive processes, and that pictures are more effective at communicating information.
The article cited a study released by Esri UK, which suggests many people are experiencing data overload as a result of the avalanche of emails and social media in their daily lives. In the process, it’s difficult to absorb the information.
Two-thirds of the 1,000 adults studied said maps and graphics made information far easier to grasp. The article quotes Dr. Dimitrios Tsivrikos, who recommends presenting more information in the form of graphics and pictures, versus text. “Research has proven that by visually presenting information, data processing demands on the brain can be reduced,” he said.
As Nathan Yau, author of Data Points: Visualization That Means Something, points out: Data visualization is “a representation of data that helps you see what you otherwise would have been blind to if you looked only at the naked source. It enables you to see trends, patterns, and outliers that tell you about yourself and what surrounds you. The best visualization evokes that moment of bliss when seeing something for the first time, knowing that what you see has been right in front of you, just slightly hidden.”
But it’s important to note that having a lot of visuals may be too much of a good thing as well. Even with lots of appealing graphics, there’s still the problem of information overload. “Big data analytics offers lots of opportunities to visualize data for business users,” writes TechTarget’s Ed Burns. “But analysts have to be careful not to overload big data visualizations with too much information.”
Charles Whittaker, head of BI at Avant, Inc. an online lender was quoted as stating that he seeks to keep a limit on data visualizations “because he thinks they sometimes can distract from the true objectives of analytics applications, such as improving business processes and enabling better business decisions.” Keep things clean and simple, he emphasizes.
As with many things, delivering solutions in measured doses helps keep attention and appreciation at the highest levels. Visuals have a decisive advantage over text in enhancing information retention, but overwhelming users with them will be counter-productive.