Scale: Seeing is believing

| Scales of Value |

It is difficult for the human mind to comprehend large scales of values. Although we use number words as abstract symbols for manipulating values from zero to infinity, how do we conceptualize (mentally perceive) the meaning of values that are almost impossible for us to even physically perceive? This issue is especially important in an age of big data. We have access to vast amount of data, but they’re practically useless if we cannot effectively communicate their significance.

Although conceptualizing large quantities can be a cognitive challenge, we can greatly simplify the task by converting values into relative measurements and representing them on a perceptually accessible scale. As percentages, art, or data visualizations, these types of representations help us physically contextualize the meaning of otherwise abstract values.

Data as Percentages

[E]verything becomes a lot easier when we talk about hundreds instead of billions. By using World Health Organization, WorldBank, Census, United Nations, and other data, The Miniature Earth project shrank the world population stats down to just 100 people.

Miniature Earth (2010 Edition) | Allysson Lucca

Data as Art

[T]he reason that I do this, it’s because I have this fear that we aren’t feeling enough as a culture right now … They’ve gone missing; these feelings have gone missing … And one of the causes of this, I think, is that … we’re all trying to create in our mind of the interconnection of things … [and] the information that we have to work with is these gigantic numbers: numbers in the millions, in the hundreds of millions, in the billions and now in the trillions … and these are numbers that our brain just doesn’t have the ability to comprehend. We can’t make meaning out of these enormous statistics. And so that’s what I’m trying to do with my work, is to take these numbers, these statistics from the raw language of data, and to translate them into a more universal visual language, that can be felt.

Turning powerful stats into art | Chris Jordan

Data as Visualizations

It feels like we’re all suffering from information overload or data glut. And the good news is there might be an easy solution to that, and that’s using our eyes more … visualizing information, so that we can see the patterns and connections that matter and then designing that information so it makes more sense, or it tells a story, or allows us to focus only on the information that’s important. Failing that, visualized information can just look really cool.

The Beauty of Data Visualization | David McCandless