What is the future of data visualisation?

6 January 2015

Karun Soni

Karun Soni


I've recently been using Webi to create various client reports with drilling options and different capabilities - however, the visuals were always the same. They were functional, clean, simple reports displayed in tables, with a consistent colour scheme and layout; delivered to many levels of the business. However, as a graphic design graduate, I wondered about further capabilities of data visualisation, purely in terms of their aesthetic design.

So what are the options?

Of course, there is Lumira which displays attractive graphs, and my limited experience with it has shown me that it is very impressive, turning data into attractive visuals instantly, giving us capability to present visuals with ease. You can even place data in geographic context, and share your findings instantly with others. The new Lumira Twitter function I thought was also interesting, pulling data from Twitter (keywords) in order to find out how much people are talking about your business (for example), and this data is then attractively displayed and laid out.

There have also been the entrepreneurs who take on various challenges in presenting big data, and if you get a minute, have a look at Hans Rosling’s TED talk.

He shows off his new software called ‘Gapminder’, which has excellent filtering capabilities as well as viewing data over time. You can press a play button, sit back and watch 40 years of historical data move around on a graph. Pretty cool stuff.

Tableau is another data visualisation software which works with databases, cubes and spreadsheets. Its capabilities across platforms and beautifully designed graphs and visuals are impressive, as well as its usability which makes it a credible tool for someone who is not very tech savvy.

But let’s think outside the box, surely there is more to data visualisation than graphs, tables and rows upon rows of data? 

When you look at the extremes of visualising big data, there is the big data ‘beautiful hairball’ problem, this is where visualisations are incredibly artistic, but it is not possible to drill into them and you cannot extract any exact information. They are just great to look at. For example, this is a print showing the map of every single router of the internet:

David McCandles- ‘Information is beautiful’ book spread

But is there a middle ground, between graphs, line and pie charts; and complex, beautiful data visuals as shown above? And what is the future? What about animated data, that changes with live updates? Or even 3D worlds where we can access data in an environment that suits a context? And what if this could reach our iPhones and iPads? How exciting, artistic and dynamic can data visuals become?

What happens when you combine a 3D game with SAP HANA?

Another example is a bit of fun- but still credible and wonderfully creative, someone actually created a SAP HANA game. The game enables you to easily switch between the HANA software and this strange visual world. A demo is shown in a world where the client is reading PO (Purchase Order) information, and can do things like rejecting PO’s by shooting them and approving them by sending them into the sky to heaven. The question is asked as to what the point is of all this, but the capabilities of a graphic front-end to SAP HANA is certainly something that captures the imagination. It is worth checking out A 3D Game Frontend for the SAP HANA SHINE Demo Content by Kevin Small.

Ventuz demo

This capability is taken further when shown in last years’ Ventuz demos, where they presented SAP HANA data in contextual environments.

You can explore these worlds, with floating digits and drill down capabilities shown in a wonderful artistic format. The demo is even shown on huge touchscreens. Now that’s what I’m talking about. This was taken even further, when ‘HANAdeck’ was presented at the SAP demo Jam in Las Vegas. It is a virtual reality device compatible with SAP HANA, where you can interact with a virtual world by just using your hands, and view data in life like scenarios. Apologies for all of the links, but this you have to see!

Again, it is a little far-fetched; however it highlights the incredible capabilities of data visualisation in the future. Imagine, for example, viewing it in 3D, and the amount of artistic license when you do things like drilling down into more granular levels of data or zoom into a specific geographic location.

So what does the future hold?

I would love to see a piece of software which hits the perfect balance of professionalism and artistic data visualisation. Software that is compatible with SAP HANA is a plus, as you can watch real-time data change and animate visuals. Maybe this kind of data representation is incredibly attractive to ‘Generation Y’, but if I spotted any trend during my time in the design world, it was that data visuals and infographics were becoming increasingly popular. I have had some experience with infographics which involved creating 3D models and pushing boundaries of data presentation. Not just for the sake of creating something different, but to capture the imagination of the audience and communicate data in a more effective manner. 

I don’t agree that it is just the artistic value that is important; I believe that it is more than that. Once you are secure about the data, able to analyse it easily, as well as meeting client demands- wouldn’t it be great to make it interactive, beautiful, clear and responsive to real time updates? Surely that is way better than a sheet of A3 paper with rows and rows of digits, with only your imagination understanding the context they are placed in. Whether things like this take off, is all down to whether clients are ready to step outside of their orthodox data visualisation comfort zones.

Food for thought.


Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race

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