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Visualisation and Interactive Media: What is Visualisation?

This guide contains resources on visualisation and other interactive media.

Visualisation & Interactive Media

Visualisation is the process of representing data graphically and interacting with these representations in order to gain insight into the data.

More specifically, Visualisation relates to the innovative use of visualisation technologies and interactive media as means of communication. Visualisation and interactive media cover a wide range of applications, such as in digital games, art & entertainment, social media, mobile media, virtual and augmented reality, 3D, user generated content, interactive cinema, and digital humanities.

'Interactive Media' is the integration of digital media including combinations of electronic text, graphics, moving images, and sound, into a structured digital computerised environment that allows people to interact with the data for appropriate purposes. The digital environment can include the Internet, telecoms and interactive digital television" (England and Finney, 2011).

 Network of 1000 Friends by Kimoquaintance CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The practice of Visualisation is useful for many reasons.

We live in a data-rich world where technology is advancing at an enormous pace!  The quantity of data is growing at a persistent speed creating what is known as Big Data.

Big Data involves datasets that grow to such an enormous size that it becomes difficult to work with them using the traditional data management applications. Hence, the importance of Visualisation.

  • Communicate information - some forms of data (eg graphical representations) are more effective as a means of communication than others (eg textual files). Visualisation can provide a quick, high level summary of the main information contained in the data. It transforms the invisible to the visible.
  • Support decisions - visualisation can provide quick answers and can improve situational awareness, hence leading to faster and timely decisions.
  • Increased efficiency - a well designed chart can be understood easily and quickly compared to reading pages of numbers of textual reports.
  • Identify and act on emerging trends - data indicating unexpected patterns can be identified quickly and can also lead to more questions and new discoveries.
  • Manipulate and interact directly with data - users can show the same data in multiple dimensions by controlling and manipulating how and what is being displayed.
  • Analysis - analyse data relationships to find meaningful stories (visual analytics)

Video below: Visual thinking is.... by Jeff Bennett (CC BY-ND 3.0)

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Types of Visualisations

"Information Visualization is concerned with the design, development, and application of computer generated interactive graphical representations of information. This often implies that information visualization primarily deals with abstract, non-spatial data. Transforming such non-spatial data to intuitive and meaningful graphical representations is therefore of fundamental importance to the field. The transformation is also a creative process in which designers assign new meanings into graphical patterns. Like art, information visualization aims to communicate complex ideas to its audience and inspire its users for new connections. Like science, information visualization must present information and associated patterns rigorously, accurately, and faithfully" (Chen, 2015).

The information represented might be financial, scientific, geographic etc. Interaction with this visual information allows it to be seen from different viewpoints, making it more engaging or interesting.

"Data visualisation is the use of tools to represent data in the form of charts, maps, tag clouds, animations or any graphical means that make content easier to understand.  Graphic representations of data are popular because they open up the way we think about data, reveal hidden patterns, and highlight connections among elements. Because current web applications allow anyone with access to data to enter information and easily create a virtualisation of it, students, informal learners, and the purely curious can now easily create visualizations that might reveal trends that were not obvious from the numbers alone. For scholars, particularly those whose conclusions depend on interpretation of complex statistics, data visualization offers the promise of easier communication and a wider audience for their findings." (Source: Abstract from Educause, 2009).   


Video below:  What is data visualisation? by B2BWhiteboard                                        

This type of visualisation is used by Scientists to explore medical, biological, architectural and meteorological subjects. The information is often visualised in 3D and relies on the most advanced technology (computers) to model and analyse very large data sets. 

Scientific visualisation is focussed on presenting data to users by means of images, in the hope that the data aids understanding.


Video below: Scientific visualisation by Bob Gotwals

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A list of References used on this page.

  • Chen, C. (2010). Information Visualisation. WIREs Comp Stat, 2, 387-403. 10.1002/wics.89
  • Educause (2009). 7 Things You Should Know About Data Visualisation 2. Retrieved from
  • England, E and Finney, A. (2011). Interactive Media - What's That? Who's Involved? Retrieved from