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Why Visualization Is Not Just About “Seeing Pictures” In Your Mind

I’ve discovered a simple process that suggests everything you thought you knew about “seeing pictures in your mind” is wrong?

Especially when it comes to memory techniques, the Memory Palace and everything related to mnemonics.

There are at least 8 Magnetic Modes:

  • Kinesthetic
  • Auditory
  • Visual
  • Emotional
  • Conceptual
  • Olfactory
  • Gustatory
  • Spatial

And “seeing” is just one of them!

Yours Free: A Private Course With Cheat Sheets For Becoming A Memory Master, Starting From Scratch.

>>> Click Here For This Special Free Offer.

New To Visualization? Here Are 5 Steps To Get You Started

Many people aren't aware of how powerful visualizing can be in their lives. In fact many of us are doing plenty of visualizations everyday. The problem is that most of us are doing visualizations to create the life we don’t want we are often using it to imagine the worst outcomes of things or worrying about the future. If you can remember the time when you worried so much about something that it actually happened, is probably a good example of using visualization to create the life you don’t want.

Visualization isn’t something fluffy used by people who aren’t living in reality. It's quite the opposite it's used by a whole array of people who know how to use it to bring about positive outcomes in their life. Many athletes including Olympians use it to excel in their sports. The benefits of visualizing is also there for children research from Beijing Institute of Physical Education and University of Ottawa found that child table tennis players between the ages of 7 to 10 performed better when they used visualizations (mental imagery).

Interestingly, research has also found that people who imagine themselves performing a task, improve their performance in that task without physically doing anything. That's what Guang Yue, an Exercise Psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, found. He discovered that people who did a virtual workout over three months in their minds were able to increase their muscle strength by 13.5% versus 30% by the people who actually did work out.

Here are some steps to help you visualize and accurately manifest the life you want:

Step 1: Know what you want

In order to visualize and manifest the kind of life you want, it's very important to have a clear idea of what you want and why. This can be achieved by understanding what you value and what brings you the most joy in life. Have you ever had that moment when you were doing something and felt joyful doing it? If yes, then that is a good sign of something you might want to have in your life.

Ask yourself: If I had nothing holding me back, what would I want to see in my life?

Step 2 : Describe your vision in detail

This is one of the most important steps. When you want to manifest the life you want, you have to create a clear vision of what it should look like. You can write this down in detail or you could create a vision board. This will help you to create a clear and full picture of what your life would look like.

Ask yourself: If I had a magic wand to make anything happen, what would my life look like?

Step 3: Start visualizing and create the emotions

Once you are ready, you can take a moment to start envisioning the actual outcome. Start to imagine the sights, the sounds, the smells and even the taste of achieving what you want. As you go along, don't forget to feel the emotions you would feel, as if this "life" was your reality now.

Ask yourself: What would I feel if all my visualizations came true?

Step 4: Take daily actions

There's a saying that “Rome was not built in a day.” Similarly, the life you want to create won’t happen in one day but will eventuate in a series of days and actions of working towards your goal. Don’t get too caught up with how far you are, instead focus on the present and set yourself daily or weekly actions to get to where you want.

Ask yourself: What is one thing I could do today that would help me get closer to the life I want?

Step 5: Have grit and persevere

When creating the life you want there, you will be faced with challenges. In fact one important tip when you are doing your visualizations is to imagine yourself facing these challenges and most importantly overcoming them.

Ask yourself: What would help me persevere when I am faced with a challenge?

(Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

As you visualize the life you want and utilise the five steps above, you will start to find your life reflecting your visualizations. Remember many people including celebrities, who started without much in their lives like Jim Carrey and Oprah Winfrey, use and swear by visualizations too. Be open, try it and see where it takes you!

3 The Atlas of Moons

Another amazing data visualization published by National Geographic in 2019 is The Atlas of Moons. This is a scrollable digital visualization that takes you on a journey through space. The data is all about the moons in our solar system, starting with our very own moon.

The visualization is not only beautiful, it’s also educational and full of value. Every moon is navigable as are their orbits and individual information. This is one of the best data visualizations out there about space.

Plotting directly with matplotlib¶

In some situations it may still be preferable or necessary to prepare plots directly with matplotlib, for instance when a certain type of plot or customization is not (yet) supported by pandas. Series and DataFrame objects behave like arrays and can therefore be passed directly to matplotlib functions without explicit casts.

pandas also automatically registers formatters and locators that recognize date indices, thereby extending date and time support to practically all plot types available in matplotlib. Although this formatting does not provide the same level of refinement you would get when plotting via pandas, it can be faster when plotting a large number of points.

You can personalize the visualization pane by adding and removing Power BI visuals from it. If you removed default visuals from the visualization pane, you can restore the pane to default and bring back all the default visuals.

Add a visual to the visualization pane

If you find yourself using the same visual across many reports, you can add the visual to your visualization pane. Adding visuals applies to AppSource visuals, organizational visuals, and visuals from files. To add a visual, right-click on the visual.

Once a visual has been pinned, it moves up to live with the other default visuals. This visual is now tied to your signed in account, so any new reports you build will automatically have this visual included, assuming you are signed in. You no longer need to add a specific visual you regularly use, to every single report.

Remove a visual from the visualization pane

If you stop using a visual regularly, you can right-click it and remove it from the visualization pane. Any type of visual can be removed from the visualization pane, including default, file ,organizational and AppSource visuals.

Restore the visualization pane

Restoring the visualization pane only applies to default visuals. Visuals that were added to the visualization pane are not affected and will remain available from the visualization pane. If you want to remove AppSource or file visuals from the visualization pane, you'll have to do it manually.

To restore the visualization pane to default, click more options and select Restore default visuals.


In Occult practices intangible images are brought into (physical reality) the material world, our 3rd dimension, by a number of ways. The attainment of this experiential knowledge (gnosis) leads to a self-realization . It has been said by occultists it lead's one to the mastery of spiritual technology and the attainment of psycho-spiritual powers.

The belief is that energy follows our thought. Our mind and thoughts produce energy, which begins to be birth in the spiritual realm first and then is reproduced in the natural. As the image we hold is incubated in thought it becomes birthed in the physical material world. Everything is first spiritual then physical. They claim this is how God created, he first had the image and then spoke it .This is clearly Christian Science and mind science also found in eastern ways of philosophy and metaphysical thought.

Visualization that is Christianized

This is the incubating process. One holds the image in their minds eye and uses faith as a force to make it come about. The concept is to have it birthed in the spiritual realm first and then it will come about in the natural. Then one is to speak what they see into existence. with this law of manifestation," thoughts held steadfastly in the mind are spoken aloud, or visualized will "manifest' in the physical world. Napoleon Hill was taught this law by spirits who called themselves Ascended Masters from a School of Wisdom located on the astral plane. Hill visualized 16 nine famous men from the past sitting around a table as his advisers and guess what, it worked. Leaders in the Faith movement are using this same law as well for speaking things into existence. The occult technique of visualization is also the key to inner healing. One visualizes a situation in the past they need to be reconciled, they visualize Jesus coming to them and solving the problem.

The New age teaches that if everyone on earth practiced this to change their reality the world would be a very different place. We would have a potentially several billion godlike creatures in the world all exercising their will competing for their own piece of reality. The force is in the hands of its wielder. Whoever exercises the most power wins. God loves us enough not to put this kind of power or ability in the hands of sinful man.

THESE OCCULT CONCEPTS ARE NOW PRACTICED IN THE CHURCH, Sanctified as Christian. We can now visualize, decree, and get direct communication of new knowledge from the Lord just as the Gnostics and new agers! Some go further and will speak the image that they want to become reality. It doesn't seem to bother some people that this is an ancient practice in the occult and other religions and commonly used by the New Age movement today.

Words and pictures are the containers of the force of faith. Even God used this .

"God did not create the world out of nothing, He used the Force of His Faith. (K. Copeland Spirit, Soul and Body #01-0601, Tape #1)

"What you are saying is exactly what you are getting now. If you are living in poverty and lack and want, change what you are saying. The powerful force of the spiritual world that creates the circumstances around us is controlled by the words of the mouth. (The Laws of Prosperity Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Copeland Publications).

Mental imaging is a common practice in the occult. One holds an image in their mind and puts in the details like coloring in an outline. As they envision it each day, meditate on it becomes clearer and will come to pass. This technique is now used for healing traumas that are emotional, cancer and other diseases. One sees the cancer or disease being fought and conquered and essentially leaving.

While mentally rehearsing Scripture and using pictures in our mind for Biblical accounts can be useful, it is not the same as attempting to create spiritual reality, or to cause through any mind technique such as positive thinking. To change, alter, or create reality you are then entering the realm of sorcery.

There are ways to use our imagination in practical and normal ways like Artists and architects need to have a visual image first. Johanna Michaelsen, now a Christian, who was deeply involved in the occult and a personal assistant to a psychic surgeon, states in her' look, Like Lambs to the Slaughter "There are perfectly valid and legitimate uses of the imagination. An artist 'sees' the finished painting or sculpture in his mind or an architect 'visualizes' the building he is working on. When we recall past events in our lives, we do so with mental images. Storytellers and books use mental images to get a point across. I'm talking about is a technique of creating an image in your mind and using that (image as) an effort to create or control reality through mind-powers.

What the new age is teaching is that one holds an image in their mind and goes in to experience it or uses it to change their reality. This is spiritual manipulation for power and healing. The Bible calls this sorcery, divination and vain imaginations.

Many who promote inner healing teach or imply that the past is reconciled through visualizing Jesus in the "memories" MacNutt explains that "Jesus, as Lord of time, is able to do what we cannot . . . [we] ask Jesus to walk back with us into the past . . . it is the inner child of the past who is being healed .. . . " Macnutt healing Ava Maria press 1974 p.186)

Ruth Carter Stapleton, who, like most of the other leaders in the movement, learned her inner healing from Agnes Sanford, tells of a young woman who became involved in drugs and crime because of the "self-loathing" she felt at being "an illegitimate child." Ruth's solution was to take the young woman back in "a guided meditation" in which Christ was visualized as "present" during the act of fornication that caused her conception and making it "holy and pure, an act of God . . . ordained by her heavenly Father. "(Stapleton Experience pp.22-23 cited in Seduction of Christianity by Dave Hunt)

We are told by some to visualize Jesus as we pray. When those into imagery and visualization believe that the "Jesus" being imaged in their mind is not just a image, but the real Jesus, even going so far as to dialogue and touch Him, then they have opened the door to counterfeit "spirit guides.' You might think you're focusing, on Jesus. You might have a real spiritual experience. But, when you create Jesus in your mind, He is not the historic Jesus of the Bible. He is The Jesus of your imagination, and the Bible warns about "another Jesus.' And many through these techniques have testified that the Jesus they encountered was not the resurrected Christ, but another Jesus, a counterfeit, "an angel of light" impersonating the Jesus of the Bible. How can Jesus who is at the right hand of the father in heaven come down and make a personal appearance to each of us materially. If each of us visualize Jesus we would all probably have a different picture of what he looks like our minds. Which one has the right Jesus, the real one? None of us! We probably would make him into some image of the pictures we saw.

We are recommended by some, even Christians, that the human mind thinks in pictures, so when you pray think of the picture in your mind. While we do use pictures it is not the norm. What pictures come to your mind when you hear the words like truth, holiness, righteousness, faith or love? None they describe qualities.

LSD and meditation are ways visualization can be experienced. This technique has come into the Christian church through prayer. We are told that we need to show God a picture of our prayer. Since God can communicate in visions we too can communicate by a picture instead of words. "Through visualization and dreaming you can incubate your future and hatch the results." (The Fourth Dimension p. 44)

"We've got to learn how. to visualize and dream the answer as being completed as we go to the Lord in prayer. We should always try to visualize the end result as we pray." "In that way, with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can incubate that which we want God to do for us. " "God used this process of visualizing the situation to help Abraham. By that visualization through the associated thought Abraham. could incubate his [future] children. The main thing is that we should know the importance of visualization." (The Fourth Dimension Vol.2 pp.26-27)

"We have taught our people how to. visualize success. Through visualizing and dreaming, you can incubate your future and hatch the results." (The Fourth Dimension, Volume Two, pp. 25-28, 68- The Fourth Dimension, p. 44)

"So men [Christians or occultists], by exploring their spiritual sphere of the fourth dimension through the development of concentrated visions and dreams in their imagination, can brood over and incubate the third dimension, influencing and changing it." "This is what the Holy Spirit taught me." (The Fourth Dimension p. 39-44)

The Holy Spirit taught him something that the Christian church never had in scripture or taught in the early church. But occultists have for thousands of years. It is one thing to receive a vision from God it is another to conjure it up oneself.

Showme the word visualization, imaging, or the practice of other such techniques. You cannot find them. But, you will find these words and techniques used in occultism.

Show me in Scripture where Jesus or Paul or anyone else used such techniques as imaging or visualization for prayer or healing. Show me in God's Word where they achieved God's presence or had spiritual experiences through mind pictures.

Learning a technique to contact or see Jesus is not biblical. We pray and God hears. He may speak in the time of prayer, He may not, He may speak at a completely different time. As Christians we operate by faith not by sight.

Before this became a popular practice in Christian circles, Napoleon Hill wrote about imagery and visualization in his book, Think and Grow Rich. He writes, "The THIRTEENTH principle is known as the sixth sense, through which Infinite Intelligence may and will communicate voluntarily, without any effort from, or demands by, the individual. Step by step, through the preceding chapters, you have been led to this, the last principle. If you have mastered each of the preceding principles, you are now prepared to accept, without being skeptical, the stupendous claims made here. "Just before going to sleep at night. I would shut my eyes, and see, in my imagination, this group of men seated with me around my council table. After some months of this nightly procedure, I was astounded by the discovery that these imaginary figures became apparently real." "Each of these nine men developed individual characteristics, which surprised me. "These meetings became so realistic that I became fearful of their consequences, and discontinued them for several months. The experiences were so uncanny, I was afraid if I continued them I would lose sight of the fact that the meetings were purely experiences of my imagination. . Whatever you believe that the adviser is a spirit, a guardian angel, a messenger from God, a hallucination, a communication from your right brain to your left, or a symbolic representation of inner wisdom is all right. The fact is, no one knows what it is with any certainty. We can each decide for ourselves.

"Sometimes people will encounter religious figures like Jesus, Moses, or Buddha, while others will find an angel, fairy, or leprechaun. People sometimes encounter the adviser as a light or a translucent spirit. The best way to work with this and any other imagery experience is just to let the figures be whatever they are. Welcome the adviser that comes and get to know it as it is."

The bible was written in words Jeremiah said the people refuse to hear my words and follow the imagination of their own heart.

I Jn. 5:15 "And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him." The Lord says to ask, never to envision or see it! The Lord can give us a vision but it is not something we work up on our own it comes when we don't expect it.

Visions or "encounters with God" recorded in Scripture were not achieved through any self-induced methods, but through the divine intervention of a sovereign God (Genesis 151 Genesis 20:3 Genesis 31:24 I Kings 3:5 Daniel 10:1)

In Jeremiahs time there were lots of people roaming around as prophets and having visions saying God has spoken to me. There is a difference of someone receiving a vision of revelation from the Lord and conjuring up one from his own imagination

Jer. 14:14 "And the LORD said to me, "The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart."

Jer. 23:16-18 "Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless they speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the LORD.

Ezek. 13:7 "Have you not seen a futile vision, and have you not spoken false divination? You say, `The LORD says,' but I have not spoken."

Heb. 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. If we are seeing, then this is the opposite of faith. Nowhere does the Bible encourage anyone to visualize to see the future or to receive an answer in prayer. It has always been found in the occult.

How to Move Forward After Achieving Goal Success

After achieving goal success, you will feel like you are on cloud nine. You have overcome a challenge in your life and, as a result, built a habit that will bring you to new heights.

It&rsquos a wonderful feeling, but eventually, that dopamine-high from the success fades away. And like so many other people that have obtained success, they are left with a big question:

What should I do now that my goal has been achieved?

People are ambitious, but after successfully reaching a goal, people can lose themselves or slow down their momentum of growth. This part of the process is a problem that many individuals face at some point if they haven&rsquot faced it already.

To help you on your way, here are some suggestions for what to do as soon as you achieve goal sucess and how to better proceed forward (also check this guide on how I achieved my goals).

Table of Contents

The Four Types

The nature and purpose questions combine in a classic 2×2 to define four types of visual communication: idea illustration, idea generation, visual discovery, and everyday dataviz.

Idea Illustration. We might call this quadrant the “consultants’ corner.” Consultants can’t resist process diagrams, cycle diagrams, and the like. At their best, idea illustrations clarify complex ideas by drawing on our ability to understand metaphors (trees, bridges) and simple design conventions (circles, hierarchies). Org charts and decision trees are classic examples of idea illustration. So is the 2×2 that frames this article.

Idea illustration demands clear and simple design, but its reliance on metaphor invites unnecessary adornment. Because the discipline and boundaries of data sets aren’t built in to idea illustration, they must be imposed. The focus should be on clear communication, structure, and the logic of the ideas. The most useful skills here are similar to what a text editor brings to a manuscript—the ability to pare things down to their essence. Some design skills will be useful too, whether they’re your own or hired.

INFO TYPE: Process, framework

TYPICAL SETTING: Presentations, teaching

PRIMARY SKILLS: Design, editing

GOALS: Learning, simplifying, explaining

Suppose a company engages consultants to help its R&D group find inspiration in other industries. The consultants use a technique called the pyramid search—a way to get information from experts in other fields close to your own, who point you to the top experts in their fields, who point you to experts in still other fields, who then help you find the experts in those fields, and so on.

It’s actually tricky to explain, so the consultants may use visualization to help. How does a pyramid search work? It looks something like this:

The axes use conventions that we can grasp immediately: industries plotted near to far and expertise mapped low to high. The pyramid shape itself shows the relative rarity of top experts compared with lower-level ones. Words in the title—“climbing” and “pyramids”—help us grasp the idea quickly. Finally, the designer didn’t succumb to a temptation to decorate: The pyramids aren’t literal, three-dimensional, sandstone-colored objects.

Too often, idea illustration doesn’t go that well, and you end up with something like this:

Here the color gradient, the drop shadows, and the 3-D pyramids distract us from the idea. The arrows don’t actually demonstrate how a pyramid search works. And experts and top experts are placed on the same plane instead of at different heights to convey relative status.

Idea Generation. Managers may not think of visualization as a tool to support idea generation, but they use it to brainstorm all the time—on whiteboards, on butcher paper, or, classically, on the back of a napkin. Like idea illustration, idea generation relies on conceptual metaphors, but it takes place in more-informal settings, such as off-sites, strategy sessions, and early-phase innovation projects. It’s used to find new ways of seeing how the business works and to answer complex managerial challenges: restructuring an organization, coming up with a new business process, codifying a system for making decisions.

INFO TYPE: Complex, undefined

TYPICAL SETTING: Working session, brainstorming

PRIMARY SKILLS: Team-building, facilitation

GOALS: Problem solving, discovery, innovation

Although idea generation can be done alone, it benefits from collaboration and borrows from design thinking—gathering as many diverse points of view and visual approaches as possible before homing in on one and refining it. Jon Kolko, the founder and director of the Austin Center for Design and the author of Well-Designed: How to Use Empathy to Create Products People Love, fills the whiteboard walls of his office with conceptual, exploratory visualizations. “It’s our go-to method for thinking through complexity,” he says. “Sketching is this effort to work through ambiguity and muddiness and come to crispness.” Managers who are good at leading teams, facilitating brainstorming sessions, and encouraging and then capturing creative thinking will do well in this quadrant. Design skills and editing are less important here, and sometimes counterproductive. When you’re seeking breakthroughs, editing is the opposite of what you need, and you should think in rapid sketches refined designs will just slow you down.

Suppose a marketing team is holding an off-site. The team members need to come up with a way to show executives their proposed strategy for going upmarket. An hourlong whiteboard session yields several approaches and ideas (none of which are erased) for presenting the strategy. Ultimately, one approach gains purchase with the team, which thinks it best captures the key point: Get fewer customers to spend much more. The whiteboard looks something like this:

Of course, visuals that emerge from idea generation often lead to more formally designed and presented idea illustrations.



Visual Discovery. This is the most complicated quadrant, because in truth it holds two categories. Recall that we originally separated exploratory purposes into two kinds: testing a hypothesis and mining for patterns, trends, and anomalies. The former is focused, whereas the latter is more flexible. The bigger and more complex the data, and the less you know going in, the more open-ended the work.

INFO TYPE: Big data, complex, dynamic

TYPICAL SETTING: Working sessions, testing, analysis

PRIMARY SKILLS: Business intelligence, programming, paired analysis

GOALS: Trend spotting, sense making, deep analysis

Visual confirmation. You’re answering one of two questions with this kind of project: Is what I suspect actually true? or What are some other ways of depicting this idea?

The scope of the data tends to be manageable, and the chart types you’re likely to use are common—although when trying to depict things in new ways, you may venture into some less-common types. Confirmation usually doesn’t happen in a formal setting it’s the work you do to find the charts you want to create for presentations. That means your time will shift away from design and toward prototyping that allows you to rapidly iterate on the dataviz. Some skill at manipulating spreadsheets and knowledge of programs or sites that enable swift prototyping are useful here.

Suppose a marketing manager believes that at certain times of the day more customers shop his site on mobile devices than on desktops, but his marketing programs aren’t designed to take advantage of that. He loads some data into an online tool (called Datawrapper) to see if he’s right (1 above).

He can’t yet confirm or refute his hypothesis. He can’t tell much of anything, but he’s prototyping and using a tool that makes it easy to try different views into the data. He works fast design is not a concern. He tries a line chart instead of a bar chart (2).

Now he’s seeing something, but working with three variables still doesn’t quite get at the mobile-versus-desktop view he wants, so he tries again with two variables (3). Each time he iterates, he evaluates whether he can confirm his original hypothesis: At certain times of day more customers are shopping on mobile devices than on desktops.

On the fourth try he zooms in and confirms his hypothesis (4).

New software tools mean this type of visualization is easier than ever before: They’re making data analysts of us all.

Visual exploration. Open-ended data-driven visualizations tend to be the province of data scientists and business intelligence analysts, although new tools have begun to engage general managers in visual exploration. It’s exciting to try, because it often produces insights that can’t be gleaned any other way.

Because we don’t know what we’re looking for, these visuals tend to plot data more inclusively. In extreme cases, this kind of project may combine multiple data sets or load dynamic, real-time data into a system that updates automatically. Statistical modeling benefits from visual exploration.

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HBR’s 10 Must Reads 2018 + HBR IdeaCast Audio Interviews

Exploration also lends itself to interactivity: Managers can adjust parameters, inject new data sources, and continually revisualize. Complex data sometimes also suits specialized and unusual visualization, such as force-directed diagrams that show how networks cluster, or topographical plots.

Function trumps form here: Analytical, programming, data management, and business intelligence skills are more crucial than the ability to create presentable charts. Not surprisingly, this half of the quadrant is where managers are most likely to call in experts to help set up systems to wrangle data and create visualizations that fit their analytic goals.

Anmol Garg, a data scientist at Tesla Motors, has used visual exploration to tap into the vast amount of sensor data the company’s cars produce. Garg created an interactive chart that shows the pressure in a car’s tires over time. In true exploratory form, he and his team first created the visualizations and then found a variety of uses for them: to see whether tires are properly inflated when a car leaves the factory, how often customers reinflate them, and how long customers take to respond to a low-pressure alert to find leak rates and to do some predictive modeling on when tires are likely to go flat. The pressure of all four tires is visualized on a scatter plot, which, however inscrutable to a general audience, is clear to its intended audience.

Garg was exploring data to find insights that could be gleaned only through visuals. “We’re dealing with terabytes of data all the time,” he says. “You can’t find anything looking at spreadsheets and querying databases. It has to be visual.” For presentations to the executive team, Garg translates these exploration sessions into the kinds of simpler charts discussed below. “Management loves seeing visualizations,” he says.

Everyday Dataviz. Whereas data scientists do most of the work on visual exploration, managers do most of the work on everyday visualizations. This quadrant comprises the basic charts and graphs you normally paste from a spreadsheet into a presentation. They are usually simple—line charts, bar charts, pies, and scatter plots.

INFO TYPE: Simple, low volume

TYPICAL SETTING: Formal, presentations

PRIMARY SKILLS: Design, storytelling

GOALS: Affirming, setting context

“Simple” is the key. Ideally, the visualization will communicate a single message, charting only a few variables. And the goal is straightforward: affirming and setting context. Simplicity is primarily a design challenge, so design skills are important. Clarity and consistency make these charts most effective in the setting where they’re typically used: a formal presentation. In a presentation, time is constrained. A poorly designed chart will waste that time by provoking questions that require the presenter to interpret information that’s meant to be obvious. If an everyday dataviz can’t speak for itself, it has failed—just like a joke whose punch line has to be explained.

That’s not to say that declarative charts shouldn’t generate discussion. But the discussion should be about the idea in the chart, not the chart itself.

Suppose an HR VP will be presenting to the rest of the executive committee about the company’s health care costs. She wants to convey that the growth of these costs has slowed significantly, creating an opportunity to invest in additional health care services.

The VP has read an online report about this trend that includes a link to some government data. She downloads the data and clicks on the line chart option in Excel. She has her viz in a few seconds. But because this is for a presentation, she asks a designer colleague to add detail from the data set to give a more comprehensive view.

This is a well-designed, accurate chart, but it’s probably not the right one. The executive committee doesn’t need two decades’ worth of historical context to discuss the company’s strategy for employee benefits investments. The point the VP wants to make is that cost increases have slowed over the past few years. Is that clearly communicated here?

In general, when it takes more than a few seconds to digest the data in a chart, the chart will work better on paper or on a personal-device screen, for someone who’s not expected to listen to a presentation while trying to take in so much information. For example, health care policy makers might benefit from seeing this chart in advance of a hearing at which they’ll discuss these long-term trends.

Our VP needs something cleaner for her context. She could make her point as simply as this:

Simplicity like this takes some discipline—and courage—to achieve. The impulse is to include everything you know. Busy charts communicate the idea that you’ve been just that—busy. “Look at all the data I have and the work I’ve done,” they seem to say. But that’s not the VP’s goal. She wants to persuade her colleagues to invest in new programs. With this chart, she won’t have to utter a word for the executive team to understand the trend. She has clearly established a foundation for her recommendations.

In some ways, “data visualization” is a terrible term. It seems to reduce the construction of good charts to a mechanical procedure. It evokes the tools and methodology required to create rather than the creation itself. It’s like calling Moby-Dick a “word sequentialization” or The Starry Night a “pigment distribution.”

It also reflects an ongoing obsession in the dataviz world with process over outcomes. Visualization is merely a process. What we actually do when we make a good chart is get at some truth and move people to feel it—to see what couldn’t be seen before. To change minds. To cause action.

Some basic common grammar will improve our ability to communicate visually. But good outcomes require a broader understanding and a strategic approach—which the typology described here is meant to help you develop.