Seven Visualization Types

Seven Visualization Types

The visualization types can be structured into seven groups : Sketches, Diagrams, Images, Maps, Objects, Interactive Visualizations, and Stories.



Sketches are atmospheric and help quickly visualize a concept. They present key features, support reasoning and arguing, and allow room for own interpretation. Sketches are heavily used by architects and urban planners for analytical and design tasks and to communicate ideas or visions. Another type are instant napkin sketches, for example to explain the way to a specific place, which is heavily used in Tokyo. In business sketches can be used to draw on flip charts and to explain complex concepts to a client in a client meeting.

Question : Do you remember a situation where using a sketch was particularly helpful?



Diagramming is the precise, abstract and focused representation of numeric or non-numeric relationships at times using predefined graphic formats and/or categories. An example of a diagram is a Cartesian coordinate system, a management matrix, or a network.
Diagrams explain causal relationships, reduce the complexity to key issues, structure, and display relationships. Conceptual Diagrams as seen in the figure above are schematic depictions of abstract ideas with the help of stan-dardized shapes (such as arrows, circles, pyramids or matrices). They are used to structure information and illustrate relationships. For the transfer and creation of knowledge conceptual diagrams help to make abstract concepts accessible, to reduce the complexity to the key issues, to amplify cognition and to discuss relationships.
Question : Do you remember a situation where you did not understand a diagramm?


2sek Manager

Images are representations that can visualize impression, expression or realism. An image can be a photograph, a computer rendering, a painting, or another format. Images catch the attention, inspire, address emotions, improve recall, and initiate discussions. Images are instant and rapid, instructive, and they facilitate learning. A subtype are visual metaphors. They support recall, lead to a-ha effects, and support reasoning and communication.

Question : Which is your favorite add? Why?


Tube Map

Maps represent individual elements (e.g., roads) in a global context (e.g., a city). Maps illustrate both overview and details, relationships among items, they structure information through spatial alignment and allow zoom-ins and easy access to information. Maps generally have a scale that determines the size of an object represented on the map in relation to its actual size. Some maps are not scaled, for example the tube map that uses a visual system that distorts the real distances to obtain a more readable map. The features on a map depend on the map’s purpose: a road map displays roads, a tube map shows the tube system, and thematic maps represent thematic entities. Further examples of maps are inter-active satellite maps (Global Positioning System, GPS) – combined with superimposed layers of location based information (e.g., restaurants, shops, history of a building) – for car drivers or users of mobile devices.

Question : Have you ever seen a thematic map? What was mapped?

Interactive Visualization


Interactive visualizations are computer-based visualizations that allow users to access, control, combine, and manipulate different types of information or media. Interactive visualizations help catch the attention of people, enable interactive collaboration across time and space and make it possible to represent and explore complex data, or to create new insights. Interactive geographic information systems are appreciated by the general user and have lately been used by companies or portals as an orientation layer to map additional information, such as hotels, cafés or instant mapping of the amount of rain that is falling, be it integrated into websites or into board computers of cars. The figure shows a tool to explore abstract data (i.e., budgets) with different filtering criteria. Sliders can be used to interactively filter the dataset. This kind of visualization allows to explore a larger amount of structured data. It is good for analytical purposes, but too complex for the communication to the general public or different stakeholders. Another subgroup of this type are interactive animations, fly-throughs, or movies that need a story board. Another example of interactive visualization is augmented reality, which means superimposing relevant information in real time on windscreens of cars or special eye glasses.

Question : Did you ever used an "Information Visualization" Software?


Physical Object

Objects exploit the third dimension and are haptic. They help attract recipients (e.g., a physical dinosaur in a science museum), support learning through constant presence, and allow the integration of digital interfaces. Many cities have a wooden three-dimensional model of their city, but often only of their core cities. An impressive model is the model of Shanghai. The creation of such models is expensive and time consuming. Despite all the wonderful possibilities of virtual reality applications, the qualities of a physical model still attracts us more and are more suitable for gaining an overview and understanding spatial relationships. As soon as we need to work with the model and switch on or off different layers of information, a virtual model can become more powerful. Such a virtual three-dimensional model annotated with additional information (e.g., Google Earth) could be used to simulate all kinds of information (weather, history, people, cars, etc.) or to simulate temporal data, such as potential future development scenarios.
Question : Can you imagine objects used in science museum that help to understand a content?


Science City: Fictitious Portraits

Stories and mental images are imaginary and non-physical visualizations. Creating mental images happens trough envisioning. Envisioning is the focused creation, elaboration of a clear mental picture of a real-life or fictitious entity or process. An example of this form may be envisioning your self giving a presentation.

Question : Do you remember a situation where the presenter used a story to inspire you?

Understanding the different visualization types and the individual benefits and limitations is the first step to become a visualization expert.

Last modified: Friday, 2 February 2007, 3:42 PM