How can I make complex data more visually comprehensible?
I think this question depends on the data and the audience you are looking to reach. QGIS is on my mind so as an example in my mind, the uses of that sort of program come to mind. Using distance formulas mixed with specific location data and coordinates can look like a real disaster in a spread sheet or written into an essay regarding some explanation of data and research. Entering that complex data into an area map, and then using color coding and shading to relay to the user how that data is interpreted, without ever actually having to read the specifics is one way to go making a very complex idea translate in a visually comprehensible manner. Outside of that particular answer, there are numerous ways which this same thought process could be applied to any number of complex data sets which need to become more visually comprehensible. Even on a basic level, such as using a Venn Diagram, you can take data that would otherwise have to be written and explained, or displayed as a multi-column spread sheet with instructions or explanation on how to read it and why, or just apply the categorized material to a quick couple or circles, maybe color them in and voila! clear concise message relayed well. Obviously, not everything is that simple, but the point is taking anything that only a few people would understand or want to understand and creating a visual aid will immediately begin to simply the way in which is can be understood. Anything progress from that point on needs to focus on what you want to tell, and to whom. From there you can utilize color, shape, familiar items such as maps graphs or animations, and go from there.
I agree with what Trevor posted above, especially the idea that the details depend on the objective and audience. I’d also suggest providing concise, clear, accompanying explanatory text on how to best read the visualization. This isn’t always necessary, some visual representation are pretty straightforward as long as they are clearly labelled/oriented, but some of the more obscure-but-useful ones (such as some of the visualizations on RAW) can be just as impenetrable to the unfamiliar eye as the unprocessed data. What might take pages to explain if someone was just looking at textual data can probably be explained in a sentence or two as part of a visual representation. I know that this question specifically mentioned visual comprehension, but having small amounts of side text in an otherwise visual representation can be an important orientation tool.
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