What is Data Visualization for Data Science?

Data scientists & analysts use Data Visualization to communicate important findings with others. Learn more about these tools and how they differ by role.

Woman data scientist working on a problem

Data visualization is the process of transforming data into visual representations to make information easier to understand, analyze and communicate. It’s an essential skill for data scientists and data analysts that helps them take complex datasets and turn them into meaningful visuals that can be used by everyone from data scientists to business owners. We’ll explain how data science visualization is used in data science, the importance of data visualization and its different types, its benefits and the different data visualization tools used by data scientists and business and data analysts.

Studies show that the human brain can process images that the eye sees for as little as 13 milliseconds. Visualizing data in pictorial or graphic format can help people better understand complex concepts or information compared to reading that data from a spreadsheet or report. Data visualization helps uncover patterns, trends, correlations and outliers in data more quickly than ever, enabling better decision-making through improved insights. By making data accessible and understandable for anyone who needs it, data visualization has become an essential tool for businesses everywhere looking to leverage the power of their data.

The purpose of data visualization extends beyond just simplifying complex data; it also helps translate findings into informative, actionable insights. Some specific use cases include identifying areas that need attention or improvement, understanding the distribution of a variable, and analyzing changes occurring over time. Moreover, data visualization plays a crucial role in bridging the gap between data analysis and its consumption, making it an indispensable tool in the world of data science.

How is Data Visualization Used in Data Science?

Data visualization is an important tool used by analysts, data scientists and business analysts to communicate information and make data more accessible to others. Data scientists and data analysts use data visualization in different ways. For example, while a data analyst will use data visualization to present current trends in an easy-to-understand way, a data analyst will use data visualization to illustrate possible future expectations based on data analysis.

Data scientists play a crucial role in deciphering the vast and complex information contained within massive unstructured or structured data sets. Their ultimate goal is to discover valuable insights and identify solutions to pressing problems. One essential step in this process is data visualization, enabling data scientists to communicate trends, patterns and relationships in the data effectively. They often need to create new and innovative data visualization tools to achieve this, distinguishing them from typical analysts. In essence, a data scientist is a creative problem solver who leverages the power of data visualization to unlock hidden insights and make data-driven decisions. MDS@Rice students take an entire course dedicated to Data Visualization and will have extensive data visualization practice and experience in the D2K Capstone Course.

Data analysts are an indispensable part of any organization. They are responsible for taking large, complex datasets and transforming them into actionable insights. Data analysts look at the big picture by organizing, analyzing and visualizing data to inform decisions and solve problems. Tasks may include:

  • Extracting data from databases or repositories.
  • Cleaning data.
  • Analyzing it with Excel or other software tools.
  • Developing reports and visualizations to present findings and making recommendations for improvement.

They often work closely with other professionals such as computer scientists, statisticians, business intelligence experts and marketers. With their specialized knowledge and technical skills, data analysts can significantly impact a business's success.

Business analysts play a critical role in guiding organizations toward data-driven decisions. By meticulously analyzing and interpreting data, they can aid leaders in making more informed decisions. One crucial tool they employ to achieve this is data visualization, which enables them to present information in a more appealing and comprehensible way. This could include using charts, graphs and other visual aids to improve strategic decision-making. Through their expertise in analyzing, visualizing, and presenting data, business analysts serve as vital bridges that connect raw data to meaningful organizational growth.

Types of Data Visualizations

Data visualization techniques offer various graphical tools that can reveal patterns, trends and relationships within complex datasets.

K-means Clustering

K-means clustering is a popular data visualization method that helps simplify complex datasets by grouping related data points into distinct clusters. This technique uses an iterative algorithm that minimizes the within-cluster sum of squares, ensuring that data points within the same cluster are more like each other than those in other clusters. By employing K-means clustering, analysts can quickly identify patterns and trends in the data, leading to valuable insights and informed decision-making.

Bar Charts

Bar charts are a popular and easy-to-understand data visualization method that allows you to display and compare quantities or frequencies across different categories. They typically consist of rectangular bars with heights or lengths proportional to the values they represent, with each bar corresponding to a specific category. One of the most valuable aspects of bar charts is their clarity and simplicity, as they enable viewers to quickly and effectively identify trends or disparities within the given data. Moreover, bar charts can be presented in various formats, such as horizontal, vertical or stacked bars, to provide more context and versatility to your data analysis. Overall, bar charts are a valuable tool for conveying important insights in a visually appealing and accessible manner.


Histograms are a popular data visualization technique that helps us understand the distribution of a variable within a dataset. This method involves dividing the dataset into discrete intervals, called bins, and then counting the number of data points that fall into each bin. The resulting bar graph represents the frequency of data points in each bin, making it easy to identify patterns or trends in the data. This insightful visualization can be beneficial when analyzing large datasets, as it allows us to quickly identify shared values, outliers, or any skewness in the data distribution.

Scatter Plots

Scatter plots are a prevalent and powerful data visualization technique that helps reveal intricate patterns and relationships between two variables in data sets. This type of graph displays data points on a two-dimensional axis, with each axis typically representing an attribute. Scatter plots allow you to easily spot trends, correlations or outliers, making them popular among statisticians and data analysts for exploratory data analysis. The closer the data points are to a straight line or a smooth curve, the stronger the connection between the investigated variables.

Line Plots

Line plots are a popular data visualization technique that effectively displays continuous data by connecting individual data points with lines. This method allows the viewers to quickly identify trends, patterns and fluctuations within the dataset, making it especially useful for time-series data or numerical sequences. Moreover, line plots offer valuable insights into the behavior of the data under study, revealing possible correlations and highlighting any outliers present. With their ability to visually summarize complex information and promote data-driven decision-making, line plots are essential in various fields like finance, engineering and environmental studies.

Heat Maps

Heat maps are one of the many fascinating data visualization techniques that help us easily understand complex data patterns. This method employs a color spectrum, usually ranging from cooler to warmer colors, to represent the numerical values of a dataset. Heat maps are especially useful for identifying trends, correlations, and outliers across a variety of fields, including finance, biology and geography.

Box-and-Whisker Plots

Box-and-whisker plots, also known as box plots, provide additional detail that histograms cannot. They can effectively convey variations in multiple datasets on a single graph. These versatile graphs showcase the data's median, quartiles and outliers, providing insights into their central tendency, dispersion and skewness. The lines that extend out from the boxes on the graph are known as “whiskers” and indicate variability outside the upper and lower quartiles.

Tree Map

Tree maps are a highly effective data visualization technique that allows users to represent hierarchical data in a visually appealing and easy-to-understand format. Tree maps efficiently display the size, structure and relationships within a dataset by using nested rectangles to showcase different categories and their sub-categories. This makes tree maps valuable for analyzing and comparing large amounts of data, enabling viewers to identify trends, patterns and anomalies quickly. Additionally, tree maps can be further enhanced by adding color-coded schemes, aiding in showcasing comparative measures and quickly highlighting significant insights.

Benefits of Data Visualization

Data visualization is a crucial aspect of effective data science and data analysis. Data scientists use visualization to detect outliers for effective data cleaning, validate model assumptions, identify correlations in data sets and visually communicate results. In addition, data visualization helps data analysts communicate trends found in large data sets in visual representations that make that information easier to understand.

The benefits of data visualization for business include:

  • Providing stakeholders with a clear and concise visual representation of data, allowing for easier comprehension of complex information and helping to build consensus toward making data-driven decisions.
  • Helping stakeholders to quickly identify correlations, trends and connections in data, which can help them make more informed and timely decisions and set appropriate goals.
  • Making it easier to identify data inaccuracies and errors by providing Data scientists with a clear visual representation of their datasets, helping them quickly spot missing values, incorrect data points or outliers that can help them clean their data before further analysis.
  • Supporting the creation of customized reports by allowing stakeholders to quickly and easily identify the data points they need to include in their reports.

Data Visualization Tools for Data Analysts and Business Analysts

A plethora of data visualization tools are available, catering to a wide range of skill sets and requirements. For instance, beginner analysts might opt for user-friendly options like Tableau, while seasoned data scientists could further utilize advanced programming languages like Python and R to create intricate visuals.

It's essential to remember that data scientists typically work with more complex data sets, necessitating sophisticated tools to effectively interpret, analyze and communicate their findings. As a result, it's vital to select the appropriate visualization tool that accommodates both the user's expertise and the data set's complexity to ensure accurate and impactful data representation.

Common data platforms for analysts include:

Microsoft Office Suite

Microsoft Office Suite includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. For example, Excel allows you to create spreadsheets and then export that information into a chart or graph. You can also use the charts in PowerPoint to visualize data for presentations.

Google Data Studio

This free tool allows anyone without data analysis experience to access data connectors and calculators to convert raw data into charts and graphs. In addition, it offers a variety of customizable report options via interactive dashboards. It is best used for business metrics like ad spend, site traffic and search rankings.


The Tableau analytics platform features interactive visual exploration. Experienced data analysts use Tableau to explore and analyze data, combine multiple views for richer insight and connect and visualize data quickly. In addition, it helps simplify data for more straightforward analysis and allows for creating worksheets and dashboards.

Power BI

Microsoft Power BI is an interactive data visualization tool focusing on business intelligence. It can be easily integrated with Microsoft products and helps non-technical users with tools for aggregating, analyzing and presenting the data in a visual format.

Data Visualization Tools for Data Scientists

In addition to the common data visualization tools employed by analysts, data scientists leverage more advanced tools to handle the complexities of their tasks effectively. Their ability to program and work with unstructured datasets sets them apart from analysts and other data professionals. Data scientists utilize data visualization in two distinct ways.

  1. First, to better comprehend their own machine learning or statistical models by identifying outliers or anomalies in the data that may impact the model's performance.
  2. Second, to effectively communicate hypotheses, observations, insights and predictions to various stakeholders with different levels of seniority.

Advanced data visualization tools and techniques increase their work's efficiency and accuracy, and enable them to make data-driven decisions with confidence.

1. Python

Python has become popular among data scientists due to its extensive libraries and tools designed specifically for data processing, analysis and visualization. For example, libraries such as Matplotlib, Seaborn and Plotly enable data scientists to create interactive and dynamic visualizations easily, thus simplifying the process of identifying patterns and trends in data. Additionally, Python's flexibility, ease of use and compatibility with various data formats contribute to its widespread adoption in the data science community.

Increasingly, employers value analysts utilizing Python in their roles in addition to data scientists. At MDS@Rice, students can access advanced Python coursework for Business Analytics applications through our Business Analytics Specialization programs.

2. Scikit-learn

Scikit-learn is an indispensable data science visualization tool that enables data scientists to perform complex analyses and create powerful predictive models. By providing a comprehensive library of machine learning algorithms and data pre-processing methods, Scikit-learn simplifies complex tasks, allowing for higher efficiency in solving data-driven problems. In addition, this Python-based tool fosters seamless integration with other relevant libraries, such as NumPy and pandas, making it a vital asset in any data scientist's toolkit.

3. Matplotlib

Matplotlib is an invaluable tool for data scientists, offering diverse data visualization techniques to portray complex data sets graphically. These visualizations make it easier for data scientists to detect patterns and trends and facilitate effective communication of findings to various stakeholders. Furthermore, with its high customization potential and compatibility with other Python libraries, Matplotlib empowers data scientists to create detailed and semantically rich visual representations that can significantly enhance data-driven decision-making processes.

Data Visualization Examples

An essential part of the MDS@Rice Capstone requires students to create and present their very own data visualizations using a wide variety of techniques. This hand-on experience allows students to fully realize the power of visualization in data science.

Enhance Your Data Visualization Skills with MDS@Rice

Unlock your potential as a data scientist by mastering data visualization and more with MDS@Rice, our online Master of Data Science program. Excel in the industry by learning critical skills such as data science visualization tools and innovative techniques from talented Rice faculty. Experience an advanced, comprehensive curriculum and practical, real-world projects. Transform your career by joining MDS@Rice today and stay ahead in the data-driven world with our pioneering program.

Data Science employment is projected to grow +35% between 2022-2032.

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