Introduction to Infographics: Visualization

  Nik Oliva   None


Defining Visualization based on its purpose

Everyone knows that Tabulation is the most basic method of summarizing and representing data in a effortlessly understandable means, however, many of us have no taste for numerical figures.

Instead most people would prefer a different of representation where numerical figures could be refrained.

This is attainable by representing any data (whether in art, science, design, statistics, computer science, etc.) with the help of visualization.

The purpose of visualization is to communicate, broadcast, connect an abstract (non-visual) data to the audience. In other words, the data must be something that is conceptual, abstract or theoretical and something that not immediately visible such as the chemical processes inside of the human body.

Visualization turns things that cannot be seen with the naked eyes to be visible.

Like photography and image processing, visualization produces image that is always clear since the visual is its main means of communication, however if the image takes only minimal part of the information like editorial images, then the image is not considered as visualization.

The most essential purpose of visualization is to provide something information that provides its audience additional knowledge from the data.

The visualization must be recognizable so it’s important to use and interpret relevant (and important) visuals that are perceptible because non-importance visuals will never give any essential information.

What is Visualization?

Visualization was indirectly defined by William Plaifair in his book An Inquiry into the Permanent Causes of the Decline and Fall of Powerful and Wealthy Nations.

In his chart that represents “the the rise and fall of all nations or countries, that have been particularly distinguished for wealth or power, is the first of the sort that ever was engraved, and has, therefore, not yet met with public approbation.”

 Willliam Plaifair stated that:

“I first drew the Chart in order to clear up my own ideas on the subject, finding it very troublesome to retain a distinct notion of the changes that had taken place. I found it answer the purpose beyond my expectation, by bringing into one view the result of details that are dispersed over a very wide and intricate field of universal history; facts sometimes connected with each other, sometimes not, and always requiring reflection each time they were referred to.”

Moreover, William Playfair was the one who first used the most common types visualization: the bar chart and a line graph and the pie chart in his remarkable atlas Playfair’s Commercial and Political Atlas and Statistical Breviary in 1786.

This 2005 version of the was introducted by Howard Wainer, an Adjunct Professor of Statistics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

“Playfair invented the pie chart and expanded upon this concept to facilitate the comparison of the resources of European countries. Playfair’s work has great relevance to contemporary science, but finding copies of his original versions is very difficult. This re-issuance of two of his classic works, with new explanatory material, allows access to his wisdom for the first time in two centuries. In full color exactly as Playfair hand-colored the original, this volume includes exact duplicates of the third edition of his classic Atlas as well as the Statistical Breviary.”- Howard Wainer

Data and information visualization

The given definitions and purposes visualization above may cause some confusion. We must understand first what we are talking about when we are working in data or information visualization.

There are many definition for the term Visualization, yet, the most referred one, which is defined by Jock D. Mackinlay and Stuart Card in their book Readings in Information Visualization: Using Vision to Think.

The authors defined the word Visualization as:

“the use of computer-supported, interactive, visual representations of data to amplify cognition”.

Here the word cognition means the power of human perception or in other words, it’s the acquisition or use of knowledge.

The practice of data visualization, which is the study of representation of data in some systematic form, including attributes and variables for the unit of information and usually analyzes large data sets.

There are many data visualization techniques such as table, bar chart, area chart, histogram, line chart, scatter plot and bubble chart.

They all seeks to uncover trends by showing meta patterns, or to make single data points easily visible and extractable. These data presentation must be beautiful, presentable, analytical, and interpretable with combined use of a coordination system, points, lines, shapes, digits, letters quantified by visual attributes in order to send the intended message to the reader effectively.

These visualizations are general, context-free since graphics functionally serve only as art pieces, if no message can be extracted, and often times created automatically as they often are attempting to display a great number of data points.

Additionally, they should be both attractive and meaningful, allowing the viewer to analyze data and recognize its direction  while admiring the overall aesthetic appeal.

Defined as the interactive, graphical presentation of data, information visualization is a research area that focuses on the use of graphical techniques to present, understand, evaluate and analyze data in a straightforward form.

It is a very useful method for understanding and working with data that arises from its capacity to apply perception and visual thinking to understanding complicated data and solving severe analytical problems.

Originally defined in 1993 by George G. Robertson, Information visualization is the transmission of abstract data with the help of interactive visual interfaces. It uses all aspects of imaging, graphics, scientific visualization, and human-computer and human-information interactions as well as information technology.

In contrast to data visualization, information visualization focuses on information that is usually abstract, thus lacking natural and obvious physical representation.

Information is part of human life, since it stimulate new ways to think and evolve new advancement.

However, with too much amount of information or data are generated from different sources and because these information are of diverse types, they must be presented in different format.

Understanding The Ground and Figure Law of Pragnanz

  Nik Oliva   None


Our minds visualize the most meaningful yet easiest interpretation of stimuli that it can perceive.

The first thing that our minds subconsciously usually try to illustrate when looking at a design is which is “figure” and what is “ground”.

Our perception on how we see and organize visual information was investigated in Germany (around 1912) by The Gestalt school of psychology.

Gestalt is a psychology term which means “unified whole”, and in German the word Gestalt literally means “shape” or “figure.”

Gestalt refers to theories of visual perception developed and influenced by German psychologists including Immanuel Kant, Ernst Mach and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the 1920s. These theories attempt to describe how our minds tend to organize visual elements into groups or unified wholes when certain principles are applied. Additionally, Gestalt psychology formed partially as a response to the structuralism of Wilhelm Wundt.

The most general Gestalt principle, The law of Pragnanz states the idea that in perceiving a visual field, some objects take a prominent role which is called figures while others recede into the background or the ground.

Prägnanz is the German word for conciseness, concision, quality of being brief and meaningful which says that we likely to order our experience in a manner that is regular, orderly, symmetric, and simple.

As stated in the journal Using Gestalt theory to teach document design and graphics of Patrick Moore and Chaz Fitz, “We cannot perceive figures unless they are separate in some way from their backgrounds, for example, separated by their different size or contrast”.

The law of Pragnanz suggests that in perceiving a visual field that is divided in two basic parts, some objects take a prominent role (the figures) while others fall back into the background (the ground).


The Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin demonstrated this in 1915 with two profile faces facing each other.

The figure above, now usually called Rubin’s Vase, made its first appearance in Edgar Rubin’s doctoral dissertation in 1915

A person normally sees the faces as figure but with a little suggestion he can see the space (ground) between the faces as figure and forming a vase.

Can you see a blue vase on a black background or two black faces on a blue background?

Our eyes differentiate an object form its surrounding area. a form, silhouette, or shape is naturally perceived as figure (the black faces in blue background), while the surrounding area is perceived as ground (the blue vase on a black background).Harmonizing both figure and ground can make the perceived image more clear.

In the simplest sense, the principle of figure ground refers to our ability to separate elements based upon contrast, that is, dark and light, black and white.

website navigation


For instance, from the image above, the set of website navigation below is successful and easy to understand while the set above is too complex to be effective.

The two website navigation are identical in composition, but the navigation set below is quickly seen to be text content (figure) resting on almost useless background shading (ground). however,  the navigation set above is perceived as twice as many figures, since the structure and the content are composed of lines. In this case, the black border lines are also seen to be content, so the structure is against with the content making it look very confusing and distracting.

This figure-ground phenomenon captures the idea that in perceiving a visual field, some objects take a prominent role (the figures) while others recede into the background (the ground).  Below are the (3)three types of figure ground relationships

A simple figure ground is the composition or diagram of what is perceived.  It can be created when a lucid, independent object is juxtaposed in a space that functions as its surrounding ground.

figure and ground exampleThe picture below is a simple one because the black heart figure is the object you perceive. The ground is everything in the background. So in the image above, the black heart is the figure and the surrounding black space is the background.

In a simple figure ground composition, the figure can be anything with a main focus, but a diagrammatic figure ground simplifies perception. In this compositional relationship, the figure is clearly visible and separate from its background.

Figure ground reversal is the inversion of background and foreground.

This graphic inversion is caused by shapes that form in the spaces located between the parts of the figure, creating the reversal.

figure ground reversal


When figures in a composition functions as the ground and when ground in a composition function as figure it is called figure ground reversal.

This is often used in logo designs and can often ground an image.

Figure ground ambiguity is the visual illusion with two (or more)alternate viewpoints. This is similar to figure ground reversal, however, the alternate image creates a totally different perception.

This illusion is created by the inversion of figure and ground.



The white square looks noticeable and appears to be more separated in depth from four black lines in addition to the wide pac man shapes. In addition, the pac men are recognized as partially occluded disks that are completed behind the square.

There are many different ways of perceiving the world. One of these ways is by using the principle of figure ground. The principle of figure ground is one of the most basic in visual communications because it points out to our ability to visually separate components based on contrast, dark and light, black and white, and positive and negative. Figure ground is a process which is used to group basic sensory elements together into perceivable objects.  However, you should keep in mind that while Gestalt psychologists call these phenomena “laws,” a more accurate term would be “principles of perceptual organization.”

How can Up-selling and Cross-selling Increase Revenues

  Nik Oliva   None

up selling and cros selling


Many experts predict that America’s economy is declining.

This has left many ecommerce owners rushing to come up with additional ways to increase their net profit without the need of investing for a marketing campaign.

For ecommerce owners with declining revenues, as well as consumers minimizing their spending, how could e-commerce owners can boost up their sales without investing time and money on advertising?

Up-selling and cross-selling can help e-commerce owners to generate more profit.

If you are in this industry, you most likely have heard the terms “cross sell” and “up sell.” However, there are still business owners that unsure of what makes the difference between up-selling and cross-selling.

Cross-selling and up-selling, both are marketing strategies that are usually implemented during the “selling process”, it is used to maximize the value of the transaction which is beneficial for both customer and business owner.

Many conclude that marketing ends once the target market started purchasing. But the strategy behind both cross-selling and up-selling is that the retailer can manipulate the transaction while it is still in process.

So keep in mind that marketing is about attract potential customer(s) to make a purchase by sending them your marketing message at the right time. When implemented effectively, cross-selling and up-selling can be very helpful to generate more sales by encouraging your existing or loyal customers to make additional purchase or to purchase more frequently.

The key idea is, you must meet and recognize your customers’ needs while attempting to understand and determine your customers’ “deeper” needs, since most customers has a need but they are probably sure if they need it.

What are up-selling and cross-selling?

Up-selling is the practice of offering customers an upgraded or premium version of the product during the purchasing process.

For instance, up-selling happens when a fast-food customer orders a regular hamburger with fries, and they are asked by the cashier “do you want to upgrade your regular fries to large fries?”  in an attempt (as stated above) to get them purchase a larger quantity of the product.

Many huge companies have perfected some up-selling strategies by making customers buy additional items at a high price.

increase revenues


For example, Toyota has increased the basic selling price of its cars by enticing customers by offering special options in their basic car.

Many shopping cart and e-commerce optimization services provide one-click up-sell and down-sell solutions that go right in and integrate with your payment gateway.

When Microsoft introduced its hybrid laptop-desktop called Microsoft Surface pro, the product is optionally available (by customizing your order from their website) with a special cover (Type Cover Keyboard) for additional $130. Their shopping website provides a customization feature for orders so the customer can choose additional product(s) to purchase.

Other examples includes, warranties on electronics purchases, and up-selling extras on a pizza like additional toppings, more crust thickness, and more cheese.

To simplify, up-selling is just a matter of asking customers if they want additional product(s) or other items to their order.

The main goal of up-selling is to help increase your sales by offering your customers additional product or an alternative, higher-value products to those already (in the purchasing process)selected by the customer.

The purpose of suggesting is to attract, get the customer’s interest and encourage the customer to purchase more products (it could be something like placing a complementary item to the one that they want to purchase that encourages them to buy it) instead.

On the other hand, cross-selling is a used by many small businesses to encourage existing and loyal customers to purchase additional or related products from your range (based on your purchases). It is usually happens when the seller has more than one type of product to offer that might be beneficial to the customer.

As an online businessmen you have more than one way in which you can cross-sell to your customers. Your website can cross-sell on its different pages. You can cross-sell on the homepage whenever a user signs in, or when a user checks his/her post transaction mails.

You can also cross-sell on the website’s product page and on their shopping cart page right before checkout (you have to customize your checkout design).

Not all retailers use cross-selling in both areas, some only cross-sell on the product pages to avoid confusion, indecision and cart abandonment upon checkout. It’s important to cross-sell wisely on view cart pages as this is a valid concern – let’s look at some dos and don’ts for both product pages and view cart pages, and then dig into some real life examples from top retailers.

Ebay and Amazon both implement cross-selling. If you purchase a certain type of product on Amazon, for instance, you bought a Persian carpet, Amazon will notify you either at the check-out page or via email, to tell you that other customers, who bought the same carpet, also bought the offered Persian door rug which is another very similar product.

Amazon will automatically notify you to try similar or related product(s) as soon as you make purchase. This cross-selling method of Amazon is very effective and according to their CEO Jeff Bezos, 35% of their sales were a direct result of cross-selling method.

Moreover, Ebay is another ecommerce site that implements cross-selling. For example, if you are selling hair colors and also offers hair repair and hair-styling products in your Ebay store, it would be a great opportunity to cross-sell it to your purchasing customers. It would help you increase the revenue on what would have been a single sale.

Imagine you own business that supplies glass and mirrors and another business owner visited your ecommerce site to order wall mirror to be installed in his/her physical store.

Upon delivering to install the mirrors, you notice that their physical store’s wood window looks old and doesn’t fit the overall design of the store. Sensing an opportunity, you offered a set of modern glass windows (this induces the buyer to consider purchasing additional items that complement their purchased mirror and their physical store overall appearance.) to the store owner and the new windows will be delivered next week.

Cross-selling doubles the profit that you generate from the existing purchaser.

In their various ways, cross-selling and up-selling are related in that they each provide customers additional value from their purchase than what they would have otherwise received had they only purchased what they were actually need. Up-selling helps the customer by providing an improved quality, while cross-selling adds helps by offering additional quality.