October 2, 2006 by  

The challenge of vizualization is to tell your story as clearly as possible, in an interesting manner, without overwhelming your user with too much detail.

Several months after 9/11, I came across an article that left a long term impression on me. It described how the FBI went about connecting relationships between all the terrorists involved in executing the plot.

The investigators began to feed all the data they had into a software program. The data included all the communications between the terrorists, their in-person interactions and transactions. This began to create a visual chart with lines showing the relationshops. As the investigators tweaked the data based on confirmed data or strong assumptions, different relationships and leadership began to become apparent.

I found this absolutely fascinating and have described this often to colleagues in the years that followed.

Visualization of news articleIn the last few months, I’ve came across similar applications of this visualization method. For example, has certain subjects defined in their “The Big Picture” feature. They color code stories vs topics vs companies that are all related to the core news article you started on.

Visualization of news articleLive Plasma is an interesting visualization tool that allows the user to search on musicians/artists, actors, movies. Here’s an example of a search for relations to the movie “.”

I’ve also had the good fortune of being exposed to teachings of Edward Tufte. Check out his Web site for many interesting examples of how to present complex information. Better yet, attend his training course.

The point to all this is to start thinking in different ways. Consider your audience. Think about the story you want to tell. Examine your data and come up with a creative way of presenting the information.

Enjoy the challenge!

10/13/2006 update: Check out these visualization videos of air traffic flight patterns over the U.S., elapsed over time and set to music.

10/31/2006 update: Check out 3D Weather Data Visualization in Second Life.

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