We’ll be back after a short break…

I’m very excited to be making my first ever visit to New York in a few days time. Besides trying to fit in 2 weeks work into 5 days, every other spare minute is being taken up organising a military-like itinerary to ensure I don’t miss out on a single sight or activity whilst I’m there. Therefore, Visualising Data is going to be taking a break for a couple of weeks.

On my return I have loads of subjects to cover and items planned to compile and publish. This will include a further five excellent ‘Visualisation Insights’ interviews, a series of massive posts presenting the ultimate collections of visualisation tools and theoretical resources and an account of my visit to New York in terms of experiencing information and design. I also desperately need to get working on a research paper that has been waiting to be authored for nearly a year now. Finally, for UK readers who might be interested, I’m developing a CPD training module through the University of Leeds that will be launched early in the New Year – I’ll share more info on that as and when it is available.

Enjoy the rest of your Septembers and speak to you in October!

Sticky slides – which is the best chart?

One of the many RSS subscriptions that keep my Google Reader working overtime is Jan Schultink’s Sticky Slides blog, which provides a lot of useful advice around presentation design. Today Jan has published a post comparing two alternative chart designs that present the same data from a survey question.

Jan’s view is that the second graphic is the more effective:

Both of these charts contain the exact same data. The second is a lot easier to read, the spectrum of customer choices is neatly laid out, and the colors are picked in sequential order.

My view is that the first graphic is, overall, the more effective. It does contain unnecessary value labels, I’d also remove the question reference codes and there is an execution blemish on the Japan chart compared to the others (presumably caused by an inconsistent paste special selection), but I think it is a much more elegant and principles-compliant approach that allows readers to draw insight from the distribution of buying attitudes in each country.

What do you think?

US Patent & Trademark Office visualisation centre

Over the several years I have been immersed in data visualisation there have been many occasions when I’ve come across a graphic that is largely well intended but basically ineffective, yet it actually proves to be quite a challenge to help justify (based on evidence) and articulate the specific reasons for its shortcomings to others.

At the other end of the spectrum, every now and then there are graphic demonstrations that are so ill-conceived that it is almost impossible to know where to start. You are left static, afflicted by some kind of verbal inertia. An example of this type of situation landed on my RSS reader today courtesy of the US Patent & Trademark Office and their new data visualisation centre.

Don’t be confused, you’re not trying to pilot a Boeing 747, this is the headline dashboard page of the USPTO’s key metrics, with each gauge representing the current performance. On the site itself you will see further details behind each metric.

You can just imagine how many times the phrase “cool gauges” was used within the team responsible for this.

Last.fm listening clocks

Spotted on Wired, the developers responsible for Last.fm’s ‘VIP playground’ have announced the launch of a visualisation service that plots subscribers’ listening habits over a certain time period onto a 24 hour clock graphic. This follows other last.fm graphic developments such as the listening trends streamgraph (read more about streamgraphs here) and music universe.

I have previously praised radial plots when writing about the graphical history of the FTSE produced by Jeremy Christopher. However, I have also found reason to identify failings with this approach, like the GE ‘Cost of Getting Sick‘ chart (read more on EagerEyes).

Once again, I don’t think radial plot approach works particularly well as an approach to effectively communicate the information. This shortcoming is probably best explained by the apparent motivation behind these graphics:

A bit less than a year ago we launched the VIP zone on our Playground, with the promise that we would keep adding fancy visualizations to it as a special treat for our loyal subscribers.

To interpret the visualisation, the red and green bars represent weekday and weekend listening, respectively, and the longer the clock’s hands the more the listening was focused around the time to which they point.

To be fair it is clear where the clusters of peaked bars are in relation to the 24 hour clock. However, the overlaid plotting of weekday and weekend activity is messy and detracts the user from being able to intuitively judge the respective bar heights. Accuracy of reading is not a necessity here, it’s more about the patterns hence the lack of scale, but the lack of subtle concentric grid lines makes it difficult to compare values, should you wish, at either side of the clock face. The clock hands are an unnecessary and confusing addition presumably representing a peak of listening activity that could have been derived from the relevant bar trends anyway.

Unquestionably, last.fm have created a visualisation that is ‘fancy’ but it would be far more effective to plot both series onto a small multiple pair of bar charts or area charts. I’m sure I’ll be labelled a killjoy but if you’re going to produce something like this to help users explore and unearth insights from their listening behaviours, a potentially interesting dataset, I think it is disappointing to undermining this opportunity through inefficient visualisation approaches.

Best of the visualisation web… August 2010

At the end of each month I pull together a collection of links to some of the most relevant, interesting and useful articles I’ve come across during the previous month. If you follow me on Twitter you will see many of these items tweeted as soon as I find them. Here’s the latest collection from August 2010:

Advertising Age | Why data visualization is about to become very important for your brand | Link

Creative Review | Interesting article about ‘liking’ | Link

TedTalks | Video of David McCandless’ recent TedTalk at the Oxford event | Link

Science Notes 2010 | Computer scientists have created tools to help people visualize information and draw meaningful conclusions – Olga Kuchment charts their course | Link

Core77 | Why great ideas can fail – by Don Norman | Link

O’reilly Radar | Redesiging the New York subway map | Link

Creative Review | The Times does info-graphics for iPads | Link

Eager Eyes | The difference between infographics and visualization | Link

Wired | Data information: How visual tools can transform lives | Link

Flowing Data | Exploring the reach of Firefox | Link

Eager Eyes | Review of Cornelia Dean’s book “Am I making myself clear?” | Link

London Datastore | From journalists to interpreters – is data changing the way we work? | Link

ACM Queue | A Conversation with Jeff Heer, Martin Wattenberg, and Fernanda Viégas | Link

Adaptive Path Blog | Beyond “I hate green:” Managing Productive Visual Design Reviews | Link

How Big Really? | BBC dimensions takes important places, events and things, and overlays them onto a map of your choice | Link

Junk Charts | Book review: Interactive Graphics for Data Analysis| Link

Flowing Data | Browse street-side with Microsoft Street Slide | Link

Juice Analytics | Applying a chart makeover to Fed IT Dashboard | Link

Wired | Data information: How visual tools can transform lives | Link

Designing with data | Data visualization “milestones” | Link

FORA.tv | Video of John Maeda talking about the “Laws of Simplicity for Design and Business” | Link

The Guardian | Growth forecasts of a collapsing economy: visualising the story of a recession | Link

The Guardian | Hollywood’s new colour craze – how the practice of tweaking the palette of films in post-production has exploded | Link

Flowing Data | How data will improve health care | Link

Lost Garden | Visualising the creative process | Link

Flowing Data | A second talk from Martin Wattenberg about data and visualization | Link

Computer World | Web multimedia: 6 reasons why Flash isn’t going away | Link

The Learning Coach | Using graphics to improve learning | Link

Visual Journalism | The next big thing in infographics – five criterias and a solution | Link

Matt.Might | The illustrated guide to a Ph.D. | Link

Urban Daddy | The craziest dashboard I’ve seen in a while | Link

Technology Story | The Artist, the Geek, and the Business Expert | Link

A VisWeek Workshop | Using visualization to create narratives and engage audiences | Link

Stamen | Knight News Challenge update | Link

Smashing Magazine | Showcase of delicious coffee websites | Link

Creative Review | Dalton Ghetti’s graphite micro-sculptures | Link

Core77 | GIFs that explain basic mechanisms | Link

Infosthetics | Prologue: The Interactive Holographics in Iron Man 2 | Link

Datavisualization.ch | Visualizing the health care reform | Link

10000 words | The journalists’ guide to analytics| Link

10000 words | The importance of sketching and why you should be doing it | Link

UX Booth | The complete beginner’s guide to design research | Link

O’Reilly Radar | Lies, damn lies, and visualizations: The intersection of data science and journalism | Link

Datavisualization.ch | How we visualized america’s food and drink spending | Link