Part 2: The essential collection of visualisation resources

The contents of this post are now published on the interactive Resources page

Google’s ‘Think Quarterly’

Google have launched an interesting new resource – an online quarterly book called Think Quarterly. In normal parlance you’d probably consider it on an online magazine or periodical but, semantics aside, the first issue is an excellent looking collection of articles themed around data.

Google describe the purpose of Think Quarterly as offering some necessary breathing space from the busy world we live  in:

At Google, we often think that speed is the forgotten ‘killer application’ – the ingredient that can differentiate winners from the rest. We know that the faster we deliver results, the more useful people find our service.

But in a world of accelerating change, we all need time to reflect. Think Quarterly is a breathing space in a busy world. It’s a place to take time out and consider what’s happening and why it matters.

Our first issue is dedicated to Data – amongst a morass of information, how can you find the magic metrics that will help transform your business? We hope that you find inspiration, insights, and more, in Think Quarterly.

The list of contributors and articles in this issue is great, including the likes of Hans Rosling, the Guardian’s Simon Rogers, Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian and Guy Laurence, CEO of Vodafone UK. I’d urge you all to take a look.

The Exposed City: Mapping the Urban Invisibles

I know there are many readers out there who love map design and the challenges of representing data against a geographical context, so I strongly recommend you take a look at a fascinating book titled The Exposed City: Mapping the Urban Invisibles (Routledge, 2010) and authored by Nadia Amoroso.

The book offers a theoretical study of mapping as it relates to visual representation of the city from the early 20th century to today through map-landscapes:

There is a vast amount of information about a city which is invisible to the human eye – crime levels, transportation patterns, cell phone use and air quality to name just a few. If a city was able to be defined by these characteristics, what form would it take? How could it be mapped? Nadia Amoroso tackles these questions by taking statistical urban data and exploring how they could be transformed into innovative new maps…

Nadia teaches at the University of Toronto, John H.Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design and her research on mapping urban phenomena and design work are published in a number of journals. You can read more about her bio here.

Rather than try (and fail) to offer a worthy outline or review of the book I would instead urge you to read the wonderfully detailed and comprehensive review of the book by Jason King on the Landscape and Urbanism Blog:

If you love maps, not as just as visual artifacts but as part of design and planning methodology, [this book] will validate, comfort, and quite possibly amaze you. That’s the effect it had on me – after quickly devouring this visually rich resource – I was full of ideas on representation and new uses for maps as valuable tools for urban studies, planning, and design.

Best of the visualisation web… February 2011

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 February 2011:

Fell in Love with Data | Killer Trait for Vis Experts #1: A Urge to Make a First Draft + Perseverance | Link

Fell in Love with Data | Killer Trait for Vis Experts #2: ‘Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ a.k.a. exploring alternatives | Link

Alan Smithee Presents | Great collection of Tableau tips and tricks | Link

Nieman Journalism Lab | Attitudes in the tubes: An Irish site mines Twitter for political trends | Link

O’Reilly Radar | Broadband availability and speed visualized in new government map | Link

Contrast | Thoughtful discussion on infographics and data | Link

CR Blog | The Feltron 2010 Annual Report | Link

mbostock | Data-Driven Documents using d3.js | Link

Perceptual Edge | Quantitative displays for combining time-series and part-to-whole relationships | Link

Smashing Magazine | Examining the design process: Clichés and idea generation | Link

Eye Magazine | Nicholas Felton talks to Eye about the allure of data-driven storytelling | Link

Infosthetics | Free encyclopedia of interactive design, usability and user experience | Link

Strata Conference | Simon Rogers, Guardian: ‘Free Our Data: How We Made Sense of Huge Datasets’ | Link

The Independent | Hot data: The art of the infographic | Link

O’Reilly Answers | How to design good data visualizations, diagrams, and information graphics | Link

Jerome Cukier | Collection of 5 great tutorials on Protovis | Link

GMaps Plugin | Maps: An Intro Guide for Business Intelligence Dashboards | Link | Alexander Chen turns New York’s subway map into a strummable set of strings | Link

Tableau | Tableau announces new policy & advisory board for Tableau Public| Link

Nature Methods | Points of view: Points of review | Link

Statistical Graphics and More | Visualizing soccer league standings | Link

Infosthetics | Strata 2011 [Day 1]: Making people fall in love with your data | Link

Infosthetics | Strata 2011 [Day 2]: Telling the story with data | Link

Infosthetics | Strata 2011 [Day 3]: Beauty, journalism and the human mind | Link

Inspired Magazine | Top 35 Flickr Groups for Infographics and Data Visualization | Link

Impure Blog | Visualization or visualisation? | Link

Infosthetics | Visualizing the airspace in Europe | Link

Seeing Complexity | W.E.B. Du Bois, radical visualization, and the transformative power of information | Link

Junk Charts | Why should charts exist? | Link

The Guardian | Information overload? Time to relax then | Link

Android Police | Cool Android activations visualization shows staggering growth | Link

Neoformix | Love and Hate on Twitter | Link

Drew Conway | Building a better word cloud | Link

CreativeBits | German Nazi Party’s Corporate identity manual | Link

Eager Eyes | Blur and uncertainty visualization | Link

Part 1: The essential collection of visualisation resources

The contents of this post are now published on the interactive Resources page

Coming soon… The essential collection of visualisation resources

Tomorrow will see the launch of a new series entitled “the essential collection of visualisation resources”. This will be a multi-post series designed to share with readers an inspiring collection of the most important, effective, useful, practical and affordable data visualisation resources.


This series will represent a filtered sense-making of the plethora of content that is out there around this evolving and increasingly popular subject. It will span the full spectrum of helpful resources from the learning of visualisation through to the doing:


I have been planning to compile these posts for a long time and I’ve probably bored quite a few people by frequently claiming that the series was imminent. This time I promise it really is coming soon.

I want to share the knowledge and references that I have picked up so far during my 4+years in this field and fulfil my key mission which is to help make visualisation for the masses.

On this theme, I have been influenced by people like Enrico Bertini (Fell in Love with Data) who always publishes thought-provoking pieces. I was especially motivated by his call to arms for bloggers and others active in this field, asking “When will we decide to provide lots of value?” and help others become data visualisation specialists. This, I hope, is a worthy response to that challenge.

Ongoing Refined Collection

After each post has been published I will be transfering the collections into a permanent ‘resources‘ page to ensure the knowledge doesn’t get buried under future posts.

I am very keen to receive feedback about my posts to ensure I refine the collection, capturing any valuable additions or necessary revisions and maintain the validity of its label as the essential resources.

I am however going to keep a fairly tight editorial approach to the contents as I want it to represent a quality collection, not just a voluminous one. I hope the collection inspires, educates or at least confirms your awareness of the key resources out there.

Heritage Health Prize, $230,000 of progress prizes announced

The Heritage Health Prize is a $3 million contest, sponsored by managed-care company Heritage Provide Network Inc, to use medical data to improve health care by designing a predictive algorithm that can best predict when people are likely to be sent to the hospital.

Yesterday (March 15) the Network announced that the world’s largest predictive modeling contest (noted previous contests include the Netflix Prize in 2009) will also include progress prizes totaling $230,000 awarded to teams leading the competition at various milestones.

The Heritage contest will begin officially on April 4th and will last for around 2 years. Participants will be able to use insurance claims data (anonymised) to help build their predictive models. The overall aim is to predict how many days a patient is likely to spend in hospital and use this information to develop more innovative and preventative services to improve patient care and also save costs.

The video below shows a launch presentation that was delivered at the recent O’Reilly Strata “Making Data Work” conference.

So why publish this on a visualisation blog? Whilst the algorithm will be the headline development behind any participant entry, visualisation techniques will play a massive role in the exploration of the insurance claims to help understand patterns and relationships in the data leading to possible innovative ideas. It will also be vital to deploy effective visualisation techniques for presenting the developments as part of the contest process. I’m sure there are many hugely talented data modellers out there who could make a great impact on this contest so why not dip your toe in the water and see how you get on?

More information about the contest can be found in a Wall Street Journal article (sub required) and on PR Newswire.

Japan earthquake real-time visualisation

If you’ve not heard there has been a massive earthquake off the North East coast of Japan this morning. This has caused devastation within the region, there are some staggering videos and images emerging. It has also triggered a pacific-wide Tsunami threat which may impact on many regions across that side of the globe.

For those of you concerned by these events and keeping an eye on developments you may wish to take a look at an excellent Google Earth plug-in, developed in collaboration with the US Geological Survey, which provides you with a real-time visualisation of the seismic activity overlayed onto the Google Earth interface.

Update: You can see a further collection of maps from the US Geological Society relating to Japan earthquake here.

Naturally my thoughts are with all those affected by this event.

Live infographic for Polar explorer

Ben Saunders: North 3 is a great looking project designed by Applied Works in collaboration with Studio8 Design which will present live updates of intrepid explorer Ben’s record-attempting solo walk to the North Pole in just 36 days. Launching on Tuesday 18th March, the day Ben sets of on his trek, the site will present hourly-updated data to help people follow Ben’s progress.

The infographic will display data on latitude, daily distance, weight of sled and temperature:

Ben’s GPS co-ordinates will be sent back every hour along with distance travelled per hour – posted live on the site and to Ben’s Twitter page. A live countdown clock will display the time remaining, and a cumulative graph of daily stats (latitude, distance travelled, sled weight and temperature) will show Ben’s progress. Ben will also send a post back at the end of each day, with an image.

Its unclear from initial reading if the display will also contextualise Ben’s trek against an ideal or target daily progress but I guess this is probably hard to quantify – its hardly a nice straight, flat road he’s walking along.

The site is a wonderfully clean design, the graphics are intuitive and clear to read as well as being compelling to monitor. Congratulations to Applied Works and Studio8 on an excellent solution, one which wonderfully encaspulates the look and feel of a polar colour pallet.

You can read more about this expedition and follow live updates on Ben’s website, good luck to him!