I’ll start this post with a short digression.
By now you may have wondered why i’m dedicating so many posts to mind-mapping. There are basically two reasons:
- Mind-mapping is a technique that still only a minority of the people actively use. In my experience it’s just about 5% of the people I’m dealing with. (If your experience is very different, i’d love to hear more about it!)
- I’d like to write a book on mind-mapping and my blog posts are rough outlines of possible book content. Once the book is available, i’ll offer mind-mapping workshops to unemployed workers in The Netherlands, free of charge.Long-term unemployment is a growing, and very worrying phenomenon in the country – much like everywhere else. I think that learning new skills is an important element in finding employment. Mind-mapping is a meta-skill, that can help an individual learn all sorts of things much faster. I would like to do my bit to help.
Okay, on to data visualisation now.
Rather than placing mind-mapping at the centre of the universe – as Tony Buzan perhaps might do – I see it as one of many data visualisation techniques.
I first encountered formal data visualisation techniques in university when i studied entity-relationship modelling. This is used to model databases.
Following that, I worked with entity-relationship diagrams for many years at Oracle, my former employer.
At Oracle I was also doing process modelling, working with object-oriented design, and what have you. Each discipline had its own techniques, with their unique and indispensable qualities.
I loved it because it allowed me to handle complex realities and convey ideas to others effectively.
And the more i thought about it, the more obvious it became to me that data visualisation is a very human thing to do, and it has been for ages.
The first hand-drawn maps? It’s a form of data visualisation.
Those “pre-historic” (what an oxymoronic term, but hey) cave paintings in southern France? It’s essentially data visualisation.
Some argue that with the advent of the internet (and corresponding explosion of data) we’re witnessing a strong growth in the demand (and supply) of tools for data visualisation.
This is affecting how we consider conventional carriers of information such as resumes. Nowadays they’re turned into visuals because people’s life stories get too complicated to capture with words only in just a few pages.
Sometimes these visualisations are called infographs. Here’s a good example:
Ben Pon, the industrial designer involved in the design of the Volkswagen Beatle in 1947, knew a thing or two about data visualisation.
Visual arts, arguably, is a form of data visualisation, and vice versa. I’m not saying this in a bid to sound clever, but – for instance – the hand-made mind-map i showed in this previous post, has a high artistic value. I’ll show a different example here just to illustrate how the line between mind-mapping and art has disappeared:
The actual craft of creating, and interacting with, visuals is touching something deeper within us.
This was well-understood in ancient India, where mandalas played a pivotal role in the spiritual development of many. Somehow there’s a meditative quality to imagery that goes beyond our conscious mind. Even today, mandalas are still an important form of expression in the contemporary Indian culture.
Going back to the original question (see blog title) I don’t see mind-mapping as separate from all of this. In my view it’s part of a spectrum of countless visualisation techniques, with plenty of cross-overs, rather than a stand-alone “thing”.
The final comment i’d make is that the term “data visualisation” may actually be a bit of a misnomer, because ultimately it’s probably more about visually expressing an inner human world, rather than merely converting bits and bytes (i.e. data) into insensitive shapes.
And that’s exactly what makes it so powerful.
Update 16 May 2012: Google launched Knowledge Graphs, see this New Yorker article.