What is Visual Data Analysis?

Visual data analysis blends highly advanced computational methods with sophisticated graphics engines to tap the extraordinary ability of humans to see patterns and structure in even the most complex visual presentations. Currently applied to massive, heterogeneous, and dynamic datasets, such as those generated in studies of astrophysical, fluidic, biological, and other complex processes, the techniques have become sophisticated enough to allow the interactive manipulation of variables in real time. Ultra high-resolution displays allow teams of researchers to zoom into interesting aspects of the renderings, or to navigate along interesting visual pathways, following their intuitions and even hunches to see where they may lead. New research is now beginning to apply these sorts of tools to the social sciences as well, and the techniques offer considerable promise in helping us understand complex social processes like learning, political and organizational change, and the diffusion of knowledge.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • Visual data analysis and other computational methods are increasingly being used to gain different perspectives on a museum's holdings. Drawing from the methodologies of digital humanities, museums who are making their metadata open access are finding that users are experimenting with it - using visualizations - to reveal new dimensions to collections. I think this will be a long-term trend. - dianezorich dianezorich Feb 23, 2016
  • I agree with Diane. The Digital Humanities sector is increasingly dependent on and is breaking new ground daily in the use of both off the shelf and customized information visualization (is this really a separate topic from VDA?) and VDA tools. Without sophisticated tools (such as the statistical analysis and visualization tool "R"), there wouldn't be enough graduate students available to answer the tough questions that only sophisticated data sets and tools can. - njohnson njohnson Feb 25, 2016
  • +1 on what's written above. I'd like to add that there is another perspective on this: as our sector (finally) becomes more adept at collecting information about our audiences, we'll have the opportunity to do both descriptive and predictive analyses to help determine what kind of experiences (educational and otherwise) we should be offering. It's our version of Big Data. Here at Mia we are up and running on salesforce, and now just beginning to scratch the surface of what it means to look to data instead of bias to guide decision-making. Visual data analysis will be one tool that we employ along this path. - dhegley dhegley Feb 26, 2016
  • Another perspective here.

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • This topic should be broadened to something like "computational analyses". This phrase addresses the fuller range of computational methodologies (visualization, text and network analysis and mining, GIS mapping, etc.) being used to experiment with museum metadata and images. - dianezorich dianezorich Feb 23, 2016
  • I second Diane's suggestion to broaden the definition of this topic. But I'd also suggest finding a way to keep some of the focus on the outputs of visual evidence resulting from analysis. - njohnson njohnson Feb 25, 2016
  • I notice that "Information Visualization" and "Visual Data Analysis" have been separated as options this year. Is this separated really useful or necessary? I'm thinking that IV is a subset of VDA. Thoughts? - njohnson njohnson Feb 25, 2016
  • I'm no expert here, but Mr. Johnson is onto something. In reading other entries on this page, it seems like VDA is being applied almost-exclusively to collection records, and I think it's range is much wider than that. I'd recommend combining the IV and VDA pages and addressing the wider range of possibilities that can come from combining good old fashioned statistical analysis with the capacity of the human eye and brain to spot patterns and trends where the math might be blind. - dhegley dhegley Feb 26, 2016
  • Another perspective here.

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • Analyzing collections using visualizations offers new ways to "see" these collections. It complements traditional "close looking" analysis (like the study of a singular work of art) with bigger picture perspectives that add to our understanding of cultural heritage. From an educator's perspective, it offers a new way to incorporate analytic skills with humanistic and artistic interpretation (STEAM). In the broader realm of interpretation - both for museums and individuals - it offers new insights into the composition of museum collections, highlighting previously unknown patterns, trends, fallacies, etc. that open up new stories about museum collections. - dianezorich dianezorich Feb 23, 2016 Add your perspective here...
  • A key impact will be for students to learn the principles of statistical analysis, information visualization, and the tools that provide the power to analyze large and highly heterogeneous data sets. Related to this is the need for consumers of the visual evidence produced by scholars to understand and interpret the visualizations themselves. - njohnson njohnson Feb 25, 2016
  • Another perspective here.

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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