The design approach to data visualization: Visual.ly

Last week we saw the launch of visual.ly, an online space to explore, share, and (one day) create data visualizations.  I’m a big fan of attempts to explain complex concepts through visualization.  I’m also very comfortable with complex datasets, of course there are many who are not.  Data visualization makes data approachable.

Data visualization is a generic term that you often see used in multiple contexts.  At the most basic level, the definition is self-evident.  Any attempt to visualize data, whether through the use of simple graphs and figures or complex computer applications, falls under the umbrella.  If you are interested in visualizing your data I think the best starting point is understanding some of the basic approaches.

Today I’ll brief you on the design approach, which is showcased through visual.ly.  You will find examples of this method on sites like David McCandless’ Information is Beautiful.  This is also where you will see the use of the term Infographic.

The design approach focuses on visual aesthetics.  Tools are used to create a visual representation of an argument, concept, or idea.  Key applications include adobe creative suite products like illustrator and other graphic design programs. This is not the place for data exploration or quickly created visuals.  It takes a lot of effort and time and is often a manual process.  Consider this approach if you have a need for a marquee graphic (websites, magazines, brochures), a complex story you want to tell, and access to a good graphic designer.