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The History of Visualizations & Their Importance in the BI World

By Alma Martin | November 19, 2013
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I recently read an interesting article from The New Yorker on “Why Abraham Lincoln Loved Infographics.” As an analytics professional with a secret passion for history, it definitely caught my attention, and I was eager to learn how infographics and visualizations helped such an influential president so long ago.

Just as Lincoln used his visualization to better understand the southern states, there are other examples in history where charts and graphs have helped to understand events and improve decision-making. For example, Charles Minard’s map of Napoleon’s march to Russia enabled him to correlate the size of the army, geographical location, army direction and weather to determine why the 1812 march ultimately failed. No doubt that predictive analytics would have helped Napoleon’s planning on the other side!

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Later that century, another visualization pioneer changed the course of history and epidemiology. In the mid 1850’s, cholera was a complete mystery. The most accepted theory for the spread of the disease at that time assumed that people became infected by inhaling contaminated air. Dr John Snow’s map of the disease was fundamental in proving that the cholera was spread through contaminated water wells, by plotting the distribution of the deaths and the location of the wells throughout London. Snow’s map not only helped him prove a point; it also provided unparalleled insights on the disease, saving many lives along the way.

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While it’s no surprise that data visualizations have played an important role in history, what’s their importance in the BI world?

Nowadays, business intelligence helps you manage data by converting it into meaningful and useful information; however one of the most important pieces in this process is data presentation. The way you portray your data will have a great impact on its consumption. That’s something that William Playfair, the inventor of the line, bar and pie chart, knew for sure. He recognized that the use of colors to differentiate categories, length to represent quantities, and slopes to indicate trends were more appropriate than tables of raw data.

The reality is that data visualizations have the ability to alleviate the complexity of data and turn it into something easy to digest. It’s through visualizations that we can take abstract information and turn it into an image with dimensions that our brain can quickly understand. Visualizations help us identify trends or discover things that would otherwise be hidden.

As more information becomes available, the harder it is to coherently display the relevant information. We need to find smarter ways to simplify the complexity of representing data. The inclusion of Big Data into the BI sphere increases the need of simplifying data consumption. Communities like visualizing.org had been created in order to make sense of complex issues through data and design. At Logi we understand the challenges that come with data visualizations and we are continuously exploring new ways to mitigate their complexity by allowing users to better understand and visualize their data.

Visualizations not only help you to identify trends or explore information, they also help you tell a story. We shouldn’t underestimate their power; they can certainly enable users to make better decisions and even change the course of a nation.

Click here and learn how to choose the right visualization for your data!

 

About the Author

Alma Martin is a Product Manager at Logi Analytics. She's spent a decade working on business intelligence and analytics projects, and focuses on data management at Logi.

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