Tree-mapping to represent complicated data sets

A technique developed in the 1990s by Professor Ben Shneiderman at the University of Maryland has come to be known as tree-mapping. As explained in the NY Times, April 3, 2011 at BU3, tree-mapping “uses interlocking rectangles to represent complicated data sets. The rectangles are sized and colored to convey different kinds of information.” A tree-map is a two-dimensional visualization for quickly analyzing large, hierarchical data sets. Many look like stacked, colored mosaics. To see what one looks like, courtesy of the Hive Group, click here for one of their examples.

As an example, a treemap would allow a law department to depict its spending on outside counsel by number of firms used and the amount spent for each firm by practice area (See my post of May 8, 2008: an online site that enables tree maps.). Much more is possible, however. Viewers can reorganize the display to explore whether other patterns appear or they can drill down on a subset of the data.

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