There is an art/science to turning data from a collection of numbers on a page into something that the mind can understand through the brain's ability to recognize patterns with the different senses. For example, associating numbers or letters with specific sounds can enable a human to listen to the data as "music" and hear auditory patterns. There is a word for the act of translating the numbers into sound (that is just an example, not my question). Similarly, numbers can be represented visually, such as in a graph, so that humans can recognize the numerical patterns through sight. I'm looking for the word that means translate numbers into a visually recognizable form.

Like a song that you can't get out of your head, I keep thinking I have seen the word "visualize" used in the sense of "make visually intuitive for other people", but I'm pretty sure that's not a recognized usage of the word. "Illustrate" is not the word I'm thinking of. That has a meaning more related to "make pretty" or "clarify with an example".

Edit: "Chart" or "graph" (verbs) are similar to the kind of word I'm looking for, but they refer to a specific type of representation. I'm looking for a more general term that applies to translating into any visually recognizable form.

  • Envision describes something you do in your own mind as opposed to translating data so that someone else can visualize it.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 15:26

3 Answers 3


In computer science and graphics, there is rendering. You are basically converting raw data into an image but there are other technical details of course.

To convert (graphics) from a file into visual form, as on a video display.


A more detailed explanation:

Rendering is the process of generating an image from a 2D or 3D model (or models in what collectively could be called a scene file), by means of computer programs. Also, the results of such a model can be called a rendering. A scene file contains objects in a strictly defined language or data structure; it would contain geometry, viewpoint, texture, lighting, and shading information as a description of the virtual scene.


Though visualization is the general concept and rendering can be a part of it.

Using the computer to convert data into picture form. The most basic visualization is that of turning transaction data and summary information into charts and graphs. Visualization is used in computer-aided design (CAD) to render screen images into 3D models that can be viewed from all angles and which can also be animated.


More specifically, there is data visualization:

Data visualization or data visualisation is viewed by many disciplines as a modern equivalent of visual communication. It involves the creation and study of the visual representation of data, meaning "information that has been abstracted in some schematic form, including attributes or variables for the units of information".


I can also say that the verb visualize is not uncommon in technical contexts for the sense that you mention.

  • You hit it. The concept was data visualization. I thought I had seen visualize used in that way but couldn't find a matching dictionary definition.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 20:28

Edward Tufte has a number of excellent books, Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Envisioning Information and Visual Explanations which are the perfect examples of just what you are looking for. Tufte also lectures about his work, and he is a fascinating lecturer. As for your question, I don't think there is a single term for what you are describing, but Tufte is a practitioner of this art.

In a similar vein, the ability to mentally visualize sound, hear colors, or other odd experiential shift, is called synesthesia. The musician and composer Michael Torke celebrates his synesthesia in his music, for example, with the suite Color Music.

  • Exactly. In fact, I had several of his books and attended one of his lectures decades ago. Now that I see the book title in your comment, I'm guessing that "envisioning" was the word stuck in my mind, although I don't think that was the meaning Tufte intended in the title, and relates back to Josh61's suggestion. Tufte's work relates to how to improve/optimize the visual presentation. The word I'm looking for relates to the step before that -- translating the data into any visually recognizable form (even if it is something that would make Tufte puke).
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 16:00
  • "Chart" the data is somewhat similar to what I'm looking for, but that refers to a specific kind of representation. I'm looking for a more general term that applies to translating data into any visual representation.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 16:04

I would use the word 'tableau' as a verb: Tableau the data, meaning to present the data visually in such a way as to tell a story. Even though it's an unconventional use of the word, it incorporates the familiar 'table' which suggests a data chart.

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