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Chapter 2. Once Upon a Stacked Time Series

The Importance of Storytelling in Information Visualization

Matthias Shapiro

THE ART OF INFORMATION VISUALIZATION is something of a strange beast. Very few disciplines require such a range of skills from their practitioners. The best visualizations not only require several talents, but may require their creators to move between these different talents quickly. Furthermore, during the process of creating the final visual, the creators may realize that certain information that was discarded early on is vital to a full understanding, or that a calculation made early in the process did not produce an accurate result.

In his exceptional book Visualizing Data (O'Reilly), Ben Fry identifies seven stages of creating an information visualization: acquire, parse, filter, mine, represent, refine, and interact. Each stage requires a certain level of technical or artistic talent, and information visualization necessitates the close integration of these talents. When acquiring and parsing the data, the information visualization artist may be imagining how to interact with it. As he refines the representation, he may recall a step in the filtering process that excluded data that turns out to be relevant. The best visualizations tend to be dreamed up and executed by either single individuals with abilities across a wide range of disciplines, or small teams working very closely together. In these small, agile environments, the full range of talents can intersect ...

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