Data Points: Visualization That Means Something by Nathan Yau - Book review

Data Points

Visualization That Means Something

By: Nathan Yau, Ph.D.

Published: April 15, 2013
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
ISBN-10: 111846219X
ISBN-13: 978-1118462195
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

"Visualization is a way to represent data, an abstraction of the real world, in the same way that the written word can be used to tell different kinds of stories", writes statistician, data visualization specialist, and writer at, Nathan Yau, Ph.D., in his viewer insight building and designed based book Data Points: Visualization That Means Something. The author describes the use of visualization as a medium for greater understanding of data, rather than as a simple tool for data presentation.

Nathan Lau understands that the form in which data is presented reflects the information it conveys and the understanding of the displayed data by the viewer. The author provides the concepts of data as both design and story. To present data in a format that is both understandable and offers the intended insights, the presenter must combine the skills of a statistician, with those of a great storyteller, and of an artistic designer. The resulting data presentation is the medium through with the message of the underlying data is shared with the audience. The method of the presentation culminates in a fusion of statistics, story, and design.

Nathan Yau (photo left) recognizes that readily understood visualization requires knowledge of both statistics and design. The omission of one element or the other reduces the value and understanding of the data as a whole. If only design is considered, the presentation is only one of art. If design is left out of the visualization process, all that is left is data and analysis. Together, the statistics and design create a clear and comprehensive presentation of the data, in a readily understood and statistically valid form.

Nathan Yau divides his book into a logical and user friendly format that provides for knowing the data, exploring deeply into the data for information, finding the underlying data to better communicate the information, and then presenting the visualized data to the audience. The book covers the following topics in detail:

* Understanding data
* Visualization: The medium
* Representing data
* Exploring data visually
* Visualizing with clarity
* Designing for an audience
* Where to go from here

For me,the power of the book is how Nathan Lau combines the elements of statistical data, presentation design, and effective storytelling into a comprehensive medium of visualization. The author presents the concept of data visualization as a medium, rather than as a tool. This distinction is important as the medium opens up data visualization to creative and artistic thinking, The author's emphasis on the critical importance of design and storytelling underlines this perspective.

Nathan Lau points out that by bringing data to life, and through the humanizing aspects of story and design, the hard statistical data is more readily grasped by the audience. As a result, the message is internalized. In this sense, the author understands that the medium is indeed the message. Through the profuse inclusion of full color photographs and of huge numbers of graphics, the author effectively demonstrates his principles in action. Intriguingly, the book is itself a hands on visualization medium of the ideas put forth within the book itself.

I highly recommend the very hands on and indispensable visualization as medium book Data Points: Visualization That Means Something by Nathan Lau, to anyone presenting complex data, regardless of industry, to audiences needing to understand and internalize that data. This eye opening book will change forever the way you think of data delivery and presentation to audiences.

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