Thursday, December 22, 2005

Visualizing Complexity

Humans have a number of ways of coping with complexity:
  1. We pretend it doesn't exist, and are surprised when our simple "cause and effect" worldview doesn't work.
  2. We dissect and fragment it. The bits soon take on a life of their own, often creating comforting rituals bereft of context and initial purpose.
  3. Occassionally, someone helps us re-synthesize and "get the big picture" once again.
In striving to increase my ability as a "complexity visualization" agent, I have experimented with a variety of mediums, and watched how others have successfully transformed information. A company that has aptly demonstrated this achievement is Xplane. On their web site, they show how fragmented, prolific content can be transformed into powerful, information-intense visuals.

Eduarde Tufte, the data visualization guru, also has produced some innovative work in visualizing complexity. On his web site, he demonstrates how sparklines (intense, word-sized, simple graphics) can be applied to healthcare data, powerfully communicating a wealth of information.

Recently I've also stumbled across Dan Willis' web site. Dan has captured a number of complex development and design activities in an effective visual form. His on-line article includes a great visual presentation on creating personas. It's also worth a look at his "No-Duh Documentation" page.

I've had the chance to leverage many of these ideas and the pleasure of watching the "lights come on" for people as they reconnect with the big picture. Even though I'm not an artist, the various drawing and visualizing tools available today make it possible for analysts, communicators and catalysts to readily leverage the power of visualization, helping drive performance and understanding to a new level. Yes, it takes extra time, but the effort pays off in spades!

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