Lots of data can be daunting – how do we know quickly and easily what it all means? Technology is helping us to explore the vast quantities of information we now collect.
There are many technologies to choose from – from the humble graphic calculator or spreadsheet, all the way to inputting data into open source software followed by the use of a 3D modelling suite to create designs. These exciting tools can help you unpack data, knowledge and statistics because of their power and accessibility.
Once statistics have been collected and analysed, a decision must be made on the best way to communicate key messages contained within the data. Often, one or two important pieces of information need to be emphasised. One way to achieve this is through a static visualisation, such as a graph or chart.
Some tools allow to the communication of information as dynamic visualisations, such as videos and animations. The use of these animations emphasises key information, shows how data changes with time, and highlights the ‘story’ which is told by the data.
There are also advanced interactive visualisations. Data users are able to change the graphics to view different variables. Users become active data explorers with the freedom to customise what they see. They can look deeper into specific areas of the data, or to track patterns changing with time and in space.
So far, only data visualisations have been mentioned – that is, how we ‘see’ data. But a new and exciting innovation, particularly in science, is communicating statistics through other senses. Artist Mitchell Whitelaw used a 3D printer to print 150 years of Sydney’s weather records. The result was a tactile display cup – you can explore the data in the cup simply by holding it.
Scientists have also created computer software to provide audio data display. Our ears are good at noticing certain types of patterns, so by turning radio telescope data into sound for example, scientists can uncover new information from old measurements.
Different representations communicate complex information in different ways. By turning data into engaging creations and stories, information becomes easier to interpret. Rather than simple numbers in a table, these tools can make the features of data come to life.