Open thread: When did you discover data visualisation?
One of the questions that I am most interested in when I approach my Visualisation Insights articles concerns how people discovered the subject of data visualisation: when was it and what was the situation that led them to suddenly recognise or appreciate the existance of the subject?
The moment data visualisation appeared on my radar
I recall my moment vividly. About 5 years ago I was doing some (typically) last-minute analysis for a manager and he came up to my desk in a rush and said “Andy, can you do some spider graphs for that report because apparently they’re going down really well”. I had an idea of what he was talking about but thought I’d stick in a Google search and check I was on the right path.
I did the search, found a few references, realised I was probably thinking about the right thing and then decided to run a further search on the alternative, perhaps more common term of ‘radar graph’. One of the immediate items on the search result was a link to a pdf article entitled “Keep Radar Graphs Below the Radar – Far Below“, written by someone called Stephen Few.
I read the article and was captivated: for the first time, in an already well established analytical career, I had come across a critique of a graphical method (Stephen made it clear that I should be disobeying my orders!).
Excited, I explored the parent site, Perceptual Edge, in more depth and it soon became clear to me that here was a subject, data/information visualisation, that I had been completely oblivious to!
It was such a ‘Eureka’ moment for me because, for so long, I had been producing charts and graphs without any real sense of how I should be presenting them. I had always purely relied on my own taste and instinct. Now, I had stumbled across a subject field that was both completely new to me but equally fundamental to the career path I had followed. For somebody who loved art and maths and had studied Operational Research at degree level – a subject coined the “science of better” – I had a natural imperative to find out more.
I did, and the rest is history…
What’s your story?
So what was your moment, when you actually discovered data/information visualisation? I’d love to read your personal anecdotes in the comments section.