Recent Events

Information Visualization Techniques

Emily Wheeler (L) and Samara Omundson (R). Sarah Houghton-Jan (moderator) at the podium

Emily Wheeler and Snaara Omundson, managers at Waggener Edstrom Worlwide, elucidated several principles of information visualization, which is currently a hot topic.  We need visualization to interpret the large masses of information now online.  We have shifted from an information overload environment to a data explosion.  A recent IDC report stated that there were 850 million petabytes of data online, and by 2010, there will be 1.2 billion, which is equivalent to a stack of DVDs reaching halfway to Mars.

How can information professionals help in interpreting all this data?  They can cut through the chaos and through the vast quantity of data, convey a clear message about what the data are telling us, and engage and inform the stakeholders.  By showing data visually, we can shift the focus from processing to delivering value and the critical conclusions gleaned from the data.

You don’t need to be a advanced statistician or use complex tools to produce good quality visualizations like those below.

Here are some visualization principles and some easy to use tools that work well:

  • Visualize the search data–identify trends and make your results more useful.
  • Generate topic clusters when you have to understand big themes.  Results can be displayed in a hierarchical tree format which shows and ranks subcategories in a limited amount of space.  Or use a branching format showing relationships between terms.
  • Time series are used to plot the number of results over time.  This is much more useful than just a long list of results.  You can use built-in graphs and charts in various search tools. TouchGraph is a free online tool for directly visualizing search results.

We tend to use text to describe text, but you can also visualize it and reveal major themes and trends.  Keyword frequency and word counts can be processed by a word counting application.  Or use a word cloud, where the frequency of words is indicated by size of font.  Tools for making clouds are Tagxedo which allows you to build the cloud in any shape, and Wordle.

Show keyword associations using a matrix showing strength of the relationship between terms and topic indicators.Structural analysis will tell you the word order (one tool is IBM’s ManyEyes).  Each branch shows the following or preceeding word, which is useful for brand associations.


  • Know your message.  Think about the data necessary to do that.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Keep visuals clear and obvious. Be sure it is easy to distinguish colors, etc.
  • Your audience will interpret data differently than you do, so items visually connected in some way (color, etc.) will be interpreted as associated.



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