The Fathers of Datavisualization: prologue

Over the last few years the world of datavisualization has become a dynamic array of research and innovation. It is field of study that has inspired blogs, invaded bookstores and newspapers, and been put into practice by designers, statisticians, and scientists at an increasing rate. This trend is still more prevalent in the Anglo-Saxon world than in France; however, it seems that the French always exhibit a little reticence to any innovation no matter what form it takes. Of course, tech and design-oriented people in France and French data journalists, as well as their readers, are familiar with datavisualization, but knowledge on the subject is definitely not as widespread as it is in the US or the UK. This situation will soon change for a simple reason: we cannot get rid of datavisualization; it is a very powerful tool that will change the way we communicate information through graphical means.

As a matter of fact, the information available today has become exponentially denser and more complex. We are now monitoring nearly everything that is technically possible to monitor, ranging from climate variations and human interactions on social networks, to global strawberry production and butterfly migration. The number of instruments used to measure the world around us is rocketing, as is their quality. Storage space is also growing rapidly, but it cannot keep up with the lightning-fast pace of data creation. In fact, experts claim that humanity has created as much information in the past two years as it has created since the beginning of its history.

The result is a spectacular quantity of data that has become, with the old-fashioned graphical form of representations, impossible to comprehend. Let’s make an emphasis here. We need to understand that the traditional visual tools to organize data, such as graphs, charts, and pie charts, were designed a few centuries ago. Why were they the preferred methods of datavisualization? The answer is that people were limited by the available technology; they had to manually draw their data representations on paper using protractors, rulers and compasses.

Thanks to the development of computer systems and software we can now design interactive and visually innovative forms that communicate quantitative information. These representations are far more insightful than ever before, allowing us to efficiently understand key relations between sets of data that would otherwise remain hidden. Moreover, the demand for quality designs that provide quick access to information has been growing in the tech industry and economy. With the rise of tactile devices and applications, datavisualization has become an important part of the user experience. Some startups in this industry employ dozens of designers whose work focuses solely on the improvement of data representation. Our time is precious, which is why the applications of the future will convey information smoothly and rapidly to serve our needs.

Today, datavisualization is a major trend with significant implications, yet this has not always been the case. In future posts, we will pay tribute to the important people who have made datavisualization possible through their hard work and innovation.