A heat map is a two-dimensional representation of data in which values are represented by colors. A simple heat map provides an immediate visual summary of information. More elaborate heat maps allow the viewer to understand complex data sets.
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There can be many ways to display heat maps, but they all share one thing in common -- they use color to communicate relationships between data values that would be would be much harder to understand if presented numerically in a spreadsheet.
In the United States, many people are familiar with heat maps from viewing television news programs. During a presidential election, for instance, a geographic heat map with the colors red and blue will quickly inform the viewer which states each candidate has won.
In this election heat map, the red states are Republican and the blue states are Democrat.
See also: data visualization