When we speak of visualizations or visual management in technical or project management domain, visual arts hardly come to our mind. Information visualization, or data visualization is one thing, and visual arts is quite the other one. However, there's a certain point where those two intersect, and in this write-up I will show how visually appealing displays of data or information differ from dull graphs, tables or reports.
There are two basic environments where any visual display can possibly exist: time and space. For visual arts, space is the environment. Arts come into the picture (no pun intended) as we look to portray a physical object or a group of objects on a painting, or as a sculpture, which is also a visual, albeit tangible. This might sound like a paradox, but ethereal visual arts are more down-to-earth than they appear as they can't live if there's no tangible 3D object that has to be rendered into a visual. This powerful painting depicts a very dramatic event happening in the physical world, as people try to save their lives and face the ruthless ocean and skies which however bring a tinge of hope with warmer colors.
The emotions that this painting evokes help it leave a certain footprint in our minds and hearts. Like, even in the hardest times the hope is always there. The painter uses art to make this very important message go home with us.
How is then a visualization different from a painting? Visualizations deal with abstract concepts as opposed to physical objects. Ironically, the dry technical reports are supposed to bring the ethereal and non-tangible things to being tangible. Timelines, as a method for visualization, represent a time-oriented display of concepts or data. Other ways of visualizing concepts and how they connect with each other include mindmaps, lists and boards (or dashboards). Think of to-do's and to-do lists and various ways that we have to visualize them. A to-do, a task or a project is an abstract concept as well.
Why should this matter at all? John Dewey has something to say on that in his essay "Art as Experience":
Art appeals directly to sense and the sensuous imagination, and many aesthetic and religious experiences occur as the result of energy and material used to expand and intensify the experience of life.
Of course, we are not talking about religious experiences here. But all of us are looking for the ways to make our intuition and creative abilities work at their best as we are search for a solution to a technical or an organizational problem. The cutting edge of brilliant performance with data insights and analysis is so elusive and so sought after that we hopelessly give up, thinking that it's not us, but someone else who has this ability to take a brilliant decision backed by intuition. Look into this quote from the John Dewey's essay closer. The key is: appeals directly to sense and sensuous imagination. If a timeline, or a list, or a dashboard is visually appealing, then an analyst or a stakeholder will not simply spend less time on grasping the overview, but will be more likely to generate a crucial insight or take a well-rounded decision as the visual nicety will contribute to that by itself. I'm sure there is some scientific research nowadays that backs up this argument in terms of neuroscience. The bottomline is: there's more pragmatism in art than one can imagine. If we surround ourselves with artful things, be it in our office space, or in our digital space, we're more likely to perform better as decision-makers, stakeholders, or analysts, or as developers and QAs, or anyone else who uses visualizations in their work.