Saturday, July 19, 2014

Understanding graphs based on time, space and matter

This article is intended to provide the reader with a basic understanding of the foundation elements for all graphs. Ready? Here we go...

There is an enormously large universe out there. The physical universe seems to be in many cases defined quantitatively and qualitatively through time, space and matter (and an honorable mention to "energy" which doesn't really have a place in our conversation today). When we consider information, we generally view it through the lamplight of one, or through a combination of one or more of these three basic measures.

For example, let's say we wanted to track doughnut consumption of policemen. We'd likely have some sort of "measure" such as number of doughnuts. We might try and visualize how many doughnuts were eaten by policemen over a period of time. Another example might be if we wanted to look at the number (the amount of matter, or volume) of doughnuts by itself. Maybe we want to see how many doughnuts were eaten in various parts of the town, so as to best scientifically avoid the policemen.

Graphs and charts are intended to provide us with visual representations to give us a different perspective on what might otherwise be a bland, or boring set of numbers. In some cases, we can glean new information by looking at something from a different or higher holistic perspective, or in a different light. These data visualizations are integral to our day-to-day operations in business and have even proven to be beneficial in bettering our quality of life.

If we combine the idea that graphs and charts are just extensions of our own innate tendency to create, and the concept that our temporal world is generally viewed in terms of time, space and matter (volume), it seems that we can easily identify some of the basic graph/chart concepts which can then be used as building blocks for creating more customized visualizations.

First, a little math. Since there are three foundations that we will be using, it's important to identify how many base unique variations we can come up with. Another way we might look at this is to ask the question: Where do the 3 base foundations intersect? These basic intersection points will represent the building blocks.
Here are the comparisons that I was able to come up with.

Graph and Chart Basic Comparisons

  1. Compare over time
  2. Compare in space
  3. Compare by matter (or volume)
  4. Compare over time in space
  5. Compare over time by matter
  6. Compare in space by matter
  7. Compare over time, in space and by matter

And now for some examples. There may be better examples (which I'd like you all to tell me about), but for now, we'll go with mine...

1. Compare over time

This graph pattern is intended to help visualize a bit of data in relation to a period of time. One example usage would be if you wanted to see when during the day your office peaked on sales based on sale time-stamps.

time data visualization

2. Compare in space

You may find insight in displaying your data based on where the data took place. One example might be if you are a grocery store and are looking to determine specifically where the most traffic flow might be based on the amount of sales numbers.

Compare by matter (volume)

To better understand this one, I prefer to switch the term "matter" with the term "volume". This chart pattern may be to help display the volume of a particular statistic. For example, let's say you wanted to give your desk neighbor at work an idea of your awesomeness. You could have a tiny dot with their name next to it, then you could put a giant circle with your name next to it. The message will be clear as day. Be careful with that example though. Don't do it, or there may be hurt feelings.

Compare over time in space

This graphing pattern is intended to help identify where someone might be in a journey at a given time.

Compare over time by matter

This charting pattern is a foundation for explaining the size of something over a period of time. An example might be if you needed to explain how big your belly is at various points in your pregnancy.

Compare in space by matter

Graph patterns that compare space and matter can be handy for visualizing how large or small something something is and where it's at. For example, a military strategist may find it handy to be able to see where the biggest concentration of enemy forces may be on a map.

Compare over time, in space and by matter

Let's just say if you are crossing this bridge, you may be going into "To much info" land. What we are talking about is basically mixing all three of the foundation concepts into one supercharged visualization. Viewing data as it exists in space, over time by how large/small it is... well, that's going to be a rare need.


There may be some graph pattern that I've missed. I can't think of any others though. I believe that if you can fully understand these foundation patterns for charting and graphing, you will have the macro foundation design. With these foundations, you can really make some complex visualizations. Image if you had graphs nested in graphs. oohhh, that would be nice.


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