Data visualization (dataviz) has come a long way. Its evolution and impact so profound that it has lent a new meaning to data itself. Its applications have grown manifold. Amid the current global health crisis, data visualization tools have provided visuals of the new infections, fatalities, recoveries and more. Social media feeds have been replete with infection heatmaps, charts illustrating transmission patterns and graphics showing the “flattening of the curve”, all thanks to data visualization.
With the emergence of cognitive frameworks and multidimensional imaging and intelligence, data visualization is enabling users to visualize large amounts of complex data (which varies in structure, size, growth rate and more). As a modern alternative for visual communication, it helps businesses in their decision-making, identify the core aspects impacting business results and forecast future trends and patterns.
Analysts at research and advisory firm Gartner forecast that, by 2025, data stories (which are explained using visuals) will be the most common way of consuming analytics, with 75 percent of the stories automatically generated using augmented analytics techniques.
Data Visualization Through AR/VR
Dataviz in Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) might be the next major use case, with examples of three-dimensional data visualizations—which can help build models, supplement maps, develop games, virtual events, et cetera—indicating big changes in the way we interact with data.
Experts anticipate the market size of augmented VR to be worth around US$209bn globally by 2022, which is indicative, again, of the enormous potential of analytics and data visualization.
It’s worth pointing out that new chart types are emerging within VR, which provides a more organic interaction with data. With the help of data visualization, VR enables us to touch information as if it’s real, resulting in accurate data analysis and faster decisions.
Data Storytelling Here to Stay
For long, publishers have been cognizant of the power of data in storytelling. With the ongoing global health situation, it’s only been highlighted more.
Two major US publications will testify to that.
Their journalistic stories, enhanced by data visualizations, went viral and are the most-viewed and most-popular articles on their websites. One is an illustration of how social distancing helps reduce the spreading of infection. The other visualizes the fatality rate in Latin America, North America, Europe, Asia and other geographical regions.
The creator of charts from one of the publications, told Nightingale, a dataviz-focused journal: “I think once things settle down, this is going to end up being an amazing resource in terms of public engagement with and response to data visualization. … anytime anyone in the future questions ‘what is the value of data visualization in the newsroom’, we’ve got several million answers here.”
Data from smart traffic systems, automobiles with augmented reality, and other smart platforms, will overlay our physical surroundings in the future, causing data to be visualized more.
Smart traffic systems, for example, help foresee traffic bottlenecks a few hours prior to commute. They also forecast public transport shortages while guiding commuters to handle possible congestions in their routes. AR in automobiles would improve safety by overlaying key information for the driver within the line of sight, making them aware of possible risks in their routes, providing emergency alerts and more.
Smart devices not only contribute to a proliferation of data but also make it essential to analyze it.
With data being more readily available, user’s expectations of the effectiveness of data will also increase. Data visualization will help detect abnormalities, trends and spikes in data.
Visualizing data in real-time is more of a need than an option for digital enterprises given the velocity of information that’s now available. In the upcoming years, modes of communication and form factor will become as important as timeliness.
The Johns Hopkins University dashboard, which has visualized the spread of the ongoing pandemic across the world, is a popular example of the impact of real-time visualization. Access to real-time data has helped officials identify the emerging hotspots and utilize the available resources to reduce the spread of the virus.
Among the key advantages of real-time visualization of data is that it accelerates the entire decision-making process.
A Wharton School of Business study finds that effective use of data visualizations shortens meetings by 24 percent. Data visualization helps organize data into a comprehensible format and convey it as a story that highlights trends, anomalies and other essential information. With the volume of data increasing rapidly, visualizations are essential to understanding the trillions of rows of data being generated daily.
But the applications are extensive and go far beyond the simple charts, graphs, maps and dashboards that we are familiar with. While the principles of effective visualization won’t change, the growth of AR/VR, increasing adoption of smart devices and platforms, Artificial Intelligence and the need for real-time illustrations will influence the future of data visualization.