Saturday, August 1, 2020

Free Tool CollViz Makes Data Visualization Easy for Museums

A title graphic with the word "CollViz" over data set images

Have you ever considered creating a way to let visitors explore your hidden collections online or in an exhibit? What about including a dashboard that illustrates your community impact in a grant proposal?

“Data visualization” may sound trendy and flashy, but it’s been around for a very long time – even mastered by Florence Nightingale. And you too are already familiar with it -- pie charts, bar graphs, timelines, and maps are all kinds of data viz.

At its core, data viz is the translation of data into visual characteristics. Take a point in a scatter plot, for example. The color, size, and position of that point can each mean something different. Humans are really good at picking out patterns, and so data viz lets us visually explore, understand, and communicate trends in data in an intuitive way.

CollViz (short for Collection Visualization) is a website created by Jessica Mailhot. She’s braided together her experience in collection management and data viz design for her Master’s thesis
project at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Museum & Field Studies Program. CollViz is where you can find pre-made templates of dashboards designed for museums, tutorials for how to use and customize them, and a host of resources to make data viz easy and powerful. Everything on CollViz is free to use, and the software Tableau Public is free, too.

Museums are full of data. It’s how they manage their collections, measure their impact, carry out projects, and teach science. And while data viz has blossomed in many other spheres, it’s still a relatively new frontier in museums. There is boundless potential, though, especially for engaging with the public. Data viz is intuitive and eye-catching. It’s spread over social media, published in popular magazines, and even reports our progress in health tracking apps.

For museums who may be curious about bringing data viz into their toolbelt, there can be some imposing barriers: training time, IT experience, extra funds, and resources suited for other professions. Now the CollViz website is a place for museums to go to get everything they need to make data viz easy, quick, and relevant.

In these transformative times for museums, we need to seek out new ways to make an impact and create engaging experiences for our communities. CollViz is here to make data viz a robust and accessible option for museums of all kinds and is something you can begin today while working remotely. So click over to the CollViz website, and let’s visualize the future of museums together!

A series of data visualization graphs

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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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