This is the first part of a new series in which we will address the importance of information visualisation as part of the reporting process. The primary purpose of a report is to convey information to its readers in a clear and comprehensible manner. In some instances this can be achieved through a table or data set embedded in the document. More often that not, the most effective method for getting your message across is through the use of graphical representations which the reader can assimilate from a quick glance.
Scientists and statisticians have long appreciated the value of diagrams to depict information. At the start of this post is Copernicus' diagram showing the heliocentric solar system-a graphic which had a profound impact on man's concept of our position in the solar system and the universe. One of the most important graphical representation of data was created by the mother of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale. Famous for her revolutionary approach to hospital care and sanitation, she was also an accomplished statistician, and the first female fellow of the Royal Statistical Society. Her graphic, Nightingale's Rose (below), was published in 1858, and depicted the causes of death of soldiers during the Crimean War. At a quick glance it shows that vastly more soldiers were dying as a result of infection (blue), rather than from the wounds inflicted upon them (red). This graphic directly led to improvements in healthcare that have saved millions of lives in the last century and a half.
Tremendous advances have been made in our ability to create meaningful graphics since then. It is in recent years, with the advent of computer-generated graphics, based on large data sets that we are able to quickly and relatively effortlessly distil large volumes of data into visually appealing graphics. The applications of information visualization are virtually limitless. They can be used for representing the results of scientific experiments and analysis, digital libraries, data mining activities, financial data analysis, market studies and manufacturing production analysis.
From a business perspective, information visualisation is an invaluable tool to assist the decision-making process. Board meetings, investor presentations and marketing materials can all be energised with eye-catching graphics which attract the attention of those interacting with the material, and large amounts of information can be rapidly conveyed in a manner that embeds in the mind of the reader. However, poorly constructed graphics, using inappropriate techniques can confuse the reader and render a report unintelligible.
Throughout this series we will be addressing the major issues regarding the different types of graphics which you can incorporate into your reports and which are most effective at conveying certain types of information. We will also be providing you with helpful tips and strategies to make the most of your reports. If you would like to receive our tips and strategies, please subscribe to our blog.