Data visualization is the graphical display of abstract information for two purposes: sense-making (also called data analysis) and communication. Important stories live in our data and data visualization is a powerful means to discover and understand these stories, and then to present them to others. The information is abstract in that it describes things that are not physical. Statistical information is abstract. Whether it concerns sales, incidences of disease, athletic performance, or anything else, even though it doesn’t pertain to the physical world, we can still display it visually, but to do this we must find a way to give form to that which has none. This translation of the abstract into physical attributes of vision (length, position, size, shape, and color, to name a few) can only succeed if we understand a bit about visual perception and cognition. In other words, to visualize data effectively, we must follow design principles that are derived from an understanding of human perception.
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Source: Interaction Design Foundation