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What is Data Visualization?

Data Visualization on Tablet


Data Visualization: Where the Future of Data Lies

Data visualization is probably what you think it is – taking data and presenting it in a way that can be seen and understood by the intended audience. That is a broad and all-encompassing view of it, considering that many industries use it in a variety of ways. It is not at all a new concept – a chapter in the book “Embodying Data” called “The Overview of Data Visualization” kicks off by saying, “The term ‘data visualization’ has a long history dated back the 2nd century AD. At the ancient society, drawings and other visual representations were used to investigate the world and also to record the historical events. Data visualization has significantly contributed to invention and discovery throughout human history.” (Li, 2020)

We have come a long way since the time of drawing on cave walls or tablets and data visualization has become integral to the way society operates and how people make decisions. Visualized data is combined with text to convey a truly full picture of scenarios, allowing audiences to better understand the meaning of data and to spot anomalies or other important trends.

What does Working a Career in Data Visualization Look Like Today?

Li’s paper goes on to acknowledge that, of course, computers, technology, and an exponential growth in the amount of data being produced, have all been gamechangers for the field. You’re probably familiar with many of the ways data can be visualized, such as in charts, but visualizing data can be done in dozens of different ways including a mock-up of work-flows or interactive GIS maps.

Better hardware and software has meant better ways to visualize data, which has increased both its value and use in the last two decades, states Antony Unwin in an article, “Why is Data Visualization Important? What is Important in Data Visualization?”(2020)

“Much larger data sets can be analyzed and visualized and graphics can play a valuable role in diagnosing the strengths and weaknesses of complex models. Data visualizations can be found everywhere, in scientific publications, in newspapers and TV, and on the Web. There are many Web pages where graphics are discussed and debated. This is a huge improvement over the situation of even 20 years ago.” (Unwin, 2020)

The COVID-19 interactive map created by MSIS Student Jessica Giles

Data Visualization at Work

As technology continues to evolve, so will visualizing data. Take, for example, the work of Master of Science in Information Sciences (MSIS) student Jessica Giles, who used data of people’s movements during the COVID-19 pandemic and placed it into an interactive map with adjacent graphs that anyone can access and use.

MSIS student Charlie Mix created a beautiful static map with GIS tools to show conservation efforts and goals for an entire region of the country. This data visualization tool has helped local organizations to bring in support for efforts, including a multi-million grant.

Charlie Mix

What type of jobs can you get in data visualization?

Because data is a driver in many fields ranging from healthcare, business, education, scientific organizations, and more, the type of jobs in data visualization also vary greatly. As many information sciences professions are, the skillset of data professional is multi-disciplinary, which makes it that much more exciting for those who want this type of career.

Take this description that NASA gives on its site “My NASA Data,” of what people in data visualization positions do there: “At the core of scientific visualization is the representation of data graphically – through images, animations, and videos – to improve understanding and develop insight. Data visualizers develop data-driven images, maps, and visualizations from information collected by Earth-observing satellites, airborne missions, and ground measurements. Visualizations allow us to explore data, phenomena and behavior; they are particularly effective for showing large scales of time and space, and “invisible” processes (e.g. flows of energy and matter) as integral parts of the models.”

Data Visualization Salaries

At NASA, the salary range for data visualization positions is listed at $75,000-$100,000 annually. That falls on the high-end of the spectrum, according to Glassdoor, which ranges similar jobs from around $50,000 to $100,000 annually. Job titles include: data visualization analyst, data visualization specialist, data visualization engineer, and data visualization developer. Visualizing data is often part of other jobs, such as business analyst and data scientist positions, that may also require some other background or expertise.

Professional Organizations

Those who are interested in this part of information sciences should consider joining the ASIS&T SIG-VIS, which is the Special Interest Group for Visualization, Image and Sound, that is a part of the Association for Information Science and Technology. The SIG-VIS, “provides a forum for ASIS&T members to discuss, develop and promote issues and research involving graphic representations and information visualization. Such information includes, but is not limited to, text document images, multimedia, interactive systems, still and moving pictures with or without sound, geographic attributes, topology, and virtual representations of the visual world.”

Jessica Giles

MSIS Student Jessica Giles

Data Visualization Graduate Education Programs

The School of Information Sciences offers an online Master of Science in Information Sciences, Data Curation and Data Management pathway. Courses featured in the pathway cover subjects such as developing data management plans, describing data using metadata schema, assuring the quality of the data, and preparing data to be used in visualizations, modeling and secondary use.

Data Visualization Undergraduate Education Programs

The Bachelor of Science in Information Sciences, Data, Information Management, and Analytics concentration features courses on database design, database implementation, data analytics and data visualization. The Data Analytics and Visualization course content focuses on visual, intuitive and interactive information representations, and a fundamental understanding of human perceptual and cognitive capabilities, computer graphics, user interface and creativity. Students also explore designs and techniques for visualizing various types of data.