As technologists, we are often asked to tell a story with data. As we intuitively know, showing our data visually can yield an immediate and lasting reaction. The visual cortex is like a superhighway to the cognitive part of the brain, and so visual information can be processed much more quickly – indeed, pre-cognitively – compared to words or grids of data.

There are a number of visualization techniques that we have in our tool kit. Keep in mind that every visual analysis program out there may have different implementations of these methods, but I’d like to offer a general set of principles on how to choose certain methods with different kinds of data.

First, I would offer that there are generally three categories of data that we might want to visualize:


Groups of things – continents, names, beverages


Items that we can place in discreet order – Gold/Silver/Bronze, Solid/Liquid/Gas, March/April/May


These are things we can “math” – Cost, weight, % discount

I would also offer that there are 10 ways that we can understand things visually, with pre-cognitive processing:

10 Visualization Methods:

Now here is how you can match those techniques up with the different categories of data​:

Visualization Method by Data Type:

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