What is Visual Data Analysis?

Visual data analysis blends highly advanced computational methods with sophisticated graphics engines to tap the extraordinary ability of humans to see patterns and structure in even the most complex visual presentations. Currently applied to massive, heterogeneous, and dynamic datasets, such as those generated in studies of astrophysical, fluidic, biological, and other complex processes, the techniques have become sophisticated enough to allow the interactive manipulation of variables in real time. Ultra high-resolution displays allow teams of researchers to zoom into interesting aspects of the renderings, or to navigate along interesting visual pathways, following their intuitions and even hunches to see where they may lead. New research is now beginning to apply these sorts of tools to the social sciences as well, and the techniques offer considerable promise in helping us understand complex social processes like learning, political and organizational change, and the diffusion of knowledge.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • - holly holly Aug 20, 2011On a simple level visual data analysis could help museums with communication issues. Many museum people are visual thinkers. Visual data analysis could be of tremendous use internally to allow non-visual thinkers to communicate non-visual topics (budgets, conservation issues, audience demographics, etc) to visual thinkers. On a more complex level I think the sky is the limit on the utility of this technology for all types of museums. - beth.harris beth.harris Aug 24, 2011
  • - christina.depaolo christina.depaolo Aug 21, 2011We are creating more data then ever before and there is a need to be able to look at it and understand it beyond the non-visual tools we have been using. I think we can learn alot to be able to see patterns and trends we would otherwise miss. Cultural institutions has been gathering data in databases for at least 15-20 years. Just think what we could learn from some thoughtful visual analysis of that data. Relationships we may never have imagined.
  • - rob.stein rob.stein Aug 30, 2011 Visualization is important in its ability to communicate complex interrelationships between multivariate datasets. Museums have frequently used visual techniques like timelines and maps to communication about the temporal or spatial relationships for different kinds of data. As our visual culture matures and becomes more accustomed to seeing new kinds of infographics and information visualization techniques, it will be beneficial for museums to leverage those techniques for communicating.
  • Christina has already raised the importance of the big data revolution to our ability to take advantage of visualization. I'd add to what she says that the important factor here isn't just that museums have (and continue to amass) huge amounts of data, but that we are getting better at organizing, labeling, normalizing, and manipulating it in order to support visualization. At the same time, external data sets (collection information created by our counterpart museums, or census data created by the government, or place data created by everyone from Foursquare to Wikipedia) is available to us to cross-tabulate with our own content--and that data too is more easily accessed and manipulated as more and more organizations publish APIs or issue public releases of their data. - susan.chun susan.chun Sep 1, 2011 - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Sep 1, 2011

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • This has obviously also become more important across social networks and others beyond museums themselves, as shown by things like Facebook hiring Nicholas Felton (of the Feltron Report) , etc. Using visual data analysis to understand not just about ourselves but about others and use trends is more of a priority in many sectors. - allegra.burnette allegra.burnette Sep 1, 2011
  • Another perspective here.

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • Hiw about visualizing the chronologies our collections, the media of the objects we collect and our collecting history? The tendencies of our collections in terms of gender and culture? Even visualizing staff and resource allocations...- beth.harris beth.harris Aug 29, 2011
  • Beth describes some great potential uses of visualization (both scholarly and operational). What's interesting here is that visualization of these sorts of topics supports both research, analysis, and scholarship AND teaching and learning for the general public. The same tools and techniques that allow researchers and practitioners to ask complex questions of enormous datasets also allow us to create simple infographics that may help us to communicate dense and confounding art historical/scientific ideas to our visitors. The New York Times and the Guardian (London) are doing a spectacular job of using infographics to augment and underline their reporting, and I think it's very possible for museum professionals to acquire the skill sets to do the same.

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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