Visualize This! A book review

Visualize this!

Visualization of data is one of the hottest topics these days. No matter where I go, people are taking a huge interest in it. Infographics are floating the Internet, for example. Companies are looking to refine their dashboards with better visuals. This was also apparent at the Gartner BI Summit earlier this week.

Despite the tremendous attention, there are only a few good books about this topic in the market. One of them is Nathan Yau’s title Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics. This week, I was able to finally read it all the way through. Did I enjoy reading it? Yes and no.

visualize this

Great concepts

Yau does a fine job with engaging the reader in the first part of the book. He explains a number of important fundamentals of visualization. This includes a process that he suggests people should follow:

  1. Get your data
  2. Ask a question (what do you want to know about it?)
  3. Choose your visualization tools
  4. Explore the data (look for trends, patterns, differences, etc.)
  5. Tell the story and design the visual

There is a lot of relevant information for business analytics professionals in this section. I particularly like that Yau urges his readers to clearly figure out what story they want to tell by visualizing data. This is often forgotten in the design of a dashboard (e.g. do I use a line-chart to show the trend, or do I use a bar chart to show the variances?)

“Approach visualization as if you were telling a story. What kind of story are you trying to tell? Is it a report, or is it a novel? Do you want to convince people that action is necessary?” Nathan Yau

The other chapters

The remaining chapters of the book contain valuable content as well. The author covers topics such as handling data and picking tools for building charts. Several chapters are dedicated towards describing how to best visualize certain problems (e.g. patterns, proportions, spatial relationships, etc.). Each section provides plenty of examples and some good ideas. I enjoyed working through this. But I do have to say that the content isn’t nearly as deep as let’s say Stephen Few’s material.

A good book for BI professionals?

So far so good. There is just one thing that you should know: Many chapters are also full of technical instructions that teach you how to build graphs and charts in the open source package R along with Adobe Illustrator. There is a lot of code in the book. Technical folks might enjoy this. But it is not my cup of tea and most BI professionals will hopefully build their charts using the corporate BI platform. To be honest, I went ahead and skipped those pages.

Visualize this!

Nathan Yau’s book Visualize this! is definitely a good book. I learned a few things here and there and took ample notes. It is also entertaining.  However, one has to understand that this is not necessarily a book dedicated towards BI professionals. Rather, this is a book for people who are looking to build infographics and other standalone visualizations. Nevertheless, you can tell that Nathan Yau is passionate about it and he inspired me to hone my skills. If you are looking for a deeper and more business oriented read, I would rather recommend the books by Stephen Few and Edward Tufte.

Visual Analytics – The new frontier? (Guest Post)

WHAT IS VISUAL ANALYTICS – BY DR JOERN KOHLHAMMER

Massive sets of data are collected and stored in many areas today. As the volumes of data available to business people or scientists increase, it becomes harder and harder to use the data effectively. Keeping up to date with the flood of data using standard tools for data management and analysis is far from easy. The field of visual analytics tries to provide people with better and more effective ways to understand and analyze these massive data sets, while helping them to follow up on their findings immediately, in real-time. Visual analytics integrates the analytic capabilities of the computer and the abilities of the human. This means, the human is empowered to take control of the analytical process; he or she is not just the final stage of a reporting process. Visual analytics sheds light on unexpected and hidden insights, which may lead to innovation and increase profits. For example, many key performance indicators are simply calculated using statistical models. But the true relations between data, models and business objectives often remain unclear. If visualization is included as an integral part of the analysis process then comprehension of the models as well as of the data is increased. Errors in the basic assumptions of the models can be recognized early on and newly discovered dependencies in the data can lead to new and possibly better reporting indices. Continue reading “Visual Analytics – The new frontier? (Guest Post)”