Data has rapidly become the new frontier in the world of scholarly publishing, as well as presenting new policy challenges across the spectrum of academic research community. Questions of data access for reproducibility, reuse of data, and even seemingly straightforward questions about storage and long-term stewardship of enormous datasets are beginning to dominate the conversation.
It’s important to take a step back though, and remember that, even in the age of “big data“, data is not an end unto itself. Information is not the same thing as understanding, and no matter how much data you collect, there is still a need for translation into meaning as well as translating that meaning into an understandable message for an audience.
As datasets get bigger and more complex, those translations become increasingly difficult. At the same time, increased technological capabilities and our increasing familiarity and ease with large datasets opens up many new creative possibilities for data visualization.
But even with advanced technological approaches, the basic rules of art and graphic design come into play. As a former colleague used to explain, we’ve been doing art as a formal practice a lot longer than we’ve been doing science as one. Just as in science, there are protocols and methodologies for visual art that work better than others, and if you can understand those principles, the story you tell about your research can be vastly more informative. The works of Edward Tufte remain an essential starting point for any researcher looking to get the most out of their data.
In the short video below, Tufte, Julia Steele from O’Reilly Media, Josh Smith from Hyperakt and Jer Thorpe from the Office for Creative Research discuss the Art of Data Visualization. As editors, publishers and researchers, we need to be open to new ways of furthering understanding and willing to experiment to improve communication.