What Is Visual Analytics?

Visual Analytics is the visual representation of data for analytic purposes. Now that there is an almost tautological definition, the next few paragraphs are going to provide a more functional understanding.

The study and practice of Visual Analytics is not new, however, it wasn’t until the widespread use of computers, and specifically the widespread accumulation of massive amounts of data in the past 10 to 20 years that the need for Visual Analytics has truly presented itself. Practically, the goal of visual analysis is to use the human visual system to consume data in a way that more quickly identifies important information contained within that data. Maps were one of the first visuals that we created, and they often provide an incredible amount of information. Take the map below.

This map shows a section of the Appalachian Trail In North Western Connecticut. The red line represents the trail, the grey lines represent a change in altitude of 10ft. The altitude labels indicate the exact footage of the line they label. The Blue line represents a stream and the wide white line, labeled “Skiff Mountain Rd” represents a street that passes between Pond Mountain and Calebs Peak. Which we know are the two high points on the left and upper right sides of the image because they are labeled as such. We also know the scale of the image and the latitude and longitude that the image is centered on because of the legend information at the bottom of the image.

In order to describe the information stored in this single image it could easily fill a 500 page book. While this is an extreme example, and in most cased there will not be as much interconnected information displayed in a single visual representation of data, this map perfectly embodies the goal of visual analytics. The ability to visually convey significant amounts of information in an easy to read, intuitive format that would be more difficult otherwise.


–The interactive map of the Appalachian Trail can be accessed at: https://nps.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=6298c848ba2a490588b7f6d25453e4e0

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