The popular adage that says: “a picture is worth a thousand words”, could be considered the statement that best explains the fact that a complex idea can be communicated with greater effectiveness through a graphical representation. Such adage can also be extrapolated to the concept of big data visualization, as it is a communication instrument that helps to illustrate specific volumes of numeric text data in form of visual metaphors using different kinds of charts.
Usually, when communicating large volumes of data represented in numeric text, it becomes difficult for the human brain to symbolize its meaning using the verbal processing function that we employ to interpret daily life phenomena. Therefore, the graphical tools developed to display numerical data sets, allows the human brain to understand information more effectively through visual metaphors.
Likewise, it is pertinent to mention that analogies and metaphors are brain’s cognitive processes that play an essential role in abstract reasoning abilities and human communication. Human brain constantly uses previously acquired knowledge about things we are familiar with, to be aware of unknown phenomena. Thus, graphic metaphors are created in our minds to allow us to understand abstract concepts, such as numeric text data in visual terms.
Additionally, and in order to understand the meaning of a visual metaphor in the analysis of a numerical data set, it is important to remark that the symbols and the graphic resources employed to depict such data must describe numeric values in the most accurate manner. Otherwise, the information authenticity that is intended to be communicated by such data set might be misinterpreted by the final user.
The aforementioned ideas help us to deduce that there is a symbiotic relationship between the types of charts and the sets of numerical data to be analyzed, which influences the way numerical data sets must be presented in the charts and the way users’ perceive data information.
Important questions to ask before designing visual metaphors.
- Does the chart aim to compare different values? Are the highest and lowest values of the data set clearly shown in the chart?
- Does the chart aim to display the composition of something? Does the chart intents to show independent values as part of a whole set of data?
- Does the chart intent to show the distribution of different values? Does the chart help to show statistics outliers, normal trends and the whole range of values expressed in the data set?
- Does the chart intent to express the relationship between different groups of data sets? Does the chart show an interrelationship between different variables?
Data visualization greatest strength is that it empowers our brain capacity to process visual information more efficiently than numerical information. Therefore, if a visual metaphor is constructed following a systematic methodology that takes into account data accuracy and graphic coherence; it will communicate charts’ information comprehensively, generating at the same time confidence in the analyzed data by users.