What is visualization

There are many things we cannot normally see with the naked eye, such as:

  • how do things look from high above or deep inside, i.e., in different space scale
  • how do things change in time, i.e., in a different time scale
  • how do things look far away or how did they look in the past, i.e., in a different place or time
  • how do things look in parallel potential worlds

Luckily we have tools that extend our senses, & allow us to see stuff that we cannot see with the senses we were born with.

Similarly, when developing a new visualization tool, e.g., software based, when it reflects things you cannot see/perceive in reality, it means that the tool is nothing less than a new sense, & whoever uses it is a more powerful being.

An even broader concept of vision includes abstraction & understanding, i.e., seeing how things work, what causes things &c.

Visualization can be very helpful for such vision, e,g,, a visual simulation can allow us to see things we cannot see & hence understand in any other way. especially when it comes to emergence & complex multi-agent systems (see more on this in the inspiring book by Mitch Reznick on StarLogo).

In business software, Business Intelligence visualizations can empower managers with senses that lets them see (become aware of) things they cannot see in any other ways. Using visual simulations BI applications can also provide the abstraction/understanding vision, on business flows / value streams, & undesired effects.

I was thinking “visual” visualizations, as in great infographics or 3d animated simulations, but hack, even the collection of stupid data records in information systems provide people vision that no sense has ever endowed them. I remember a manager of a company I worked with (which clearly was a genius manager – growing a small family shop to the world’s 2nd largest vendor of plastic home furniture) who could look at a grid of colored data arriving from a mainframe system, & see things happening in his company as if he was looking at the green code rendering of the matrix. For example, he could look at a grid & say that some employee is stilling something in some business unit, & be right of course.

So what is visualization? It’s both getting sensual inputs from various sensors, which we once wouldn’t have dreamed about (getting the twits or flickr photos of the mars rover or of the summer vacation of a “friend” you actually never met), & also the processing of these inputs outside our brain to convey higher level abstraction & understanding of our world.


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