Defining Information Visualization

Information Visualization refers to the use of computer-supported, interactive, visual representations of abstract data to amplify cognition.
Interaction is an important aspect of any efficient visualization. A user must be able to change what is visualized as well as how it is visualized. The end goal is a better understanding of the phenomenon.
The term abstract data refers to data that has no obvious/natural visual representation. Information Visualization is particularly important for such data.
To amplify cognition could mean any of the following:
  • to improve understanding
  • to solve problems in a shorter time with less effort
  • to solve problems more accurately
  • to do things that would be impossible to do without a computer and a graphical representation
A cognitive artifact is a tool that helps one think better. But how does it help? For example, if we try to multiply two numbers in our mind, it is tougher to do so when compared to using pen and paper. This is because, when we use pen and paper, we store the intermediate results in the real world, and do not have to retain them in our memory. This is why it is easier to multiply using pen and paper.
This is related to the concept of distributed cognition: it refers to the fact that our cognitive system doesn't only comprise of our mind and sensors, but also includes the artifacts and the environment that surrounds us, that we use to store and manipulate information.