Big Data Visualisation

Visualisations of ‘big data’ have been commonplace over the last few years, though their is still much debate to be had about the value of many of them beyond their visually interesting presentation. Applying Edward Tufte’s rules on many of such visualisations often renders them as chartjunk, communicating little of real and useable value—even though they may be visually stunning pieces of artwork—or shall we say, the Emperor’s New Clothes?!

This excellent tool renders global weather conditions forecast by supercomputers and updated every three hours. In my opinion, rarely are large data sets rendered with such clarity as well as beauty. There is nothing shown that doesn’t need to be there, that may act as little more than visual distraction.

The image above was captured from the online tool, earth, and depicts in this instance, wind characteristics at surface level. It clearly shows speed, direction and a sense of implied force. We are also able to understand the interactions between different bands of winds around the globe, which itself can also be shown in different map projections. In all, an excellent example of form following function, resulting in simplicity and clarity of communication. The tenth principle of the great industrial designer, Dieter Rams, states:

“Data graphics should draw the viewer’s attention to the sense and substance of the data, not to something else. Occasionally artfulness of design makes a graphic worthy of the Museum of Modern Art, but essentially statistical graphics are instruments to help people reason about quantitative information.”

—Edward R Tufte

I shall be following up this brief article with further discussion around big data and visualisations at a later date.

August, 2017

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