Share your experiences of the Tableau European Conference

Tableau Software is hosting its first ever European Customer Conference, at the Hotel Movenpick, Amsterdam on 9th to 11th May with what promises to be an exceptionally packed and rewarding schedule of sessions and speakers.

Unfortunately, I am unable to make this event but would like to invite any reader attending to use this blog as a platform to share their experiences from the conference.

It doesn’t have to be anything overwhelming in volume or depth, just a straightforward account of your key discoveries and observations from the sessions you have attended and the people you have met each day.

All I’d need from you is a bunch of text to compile into a post or posts. If you want to provide a daily update that would be fantastic, otherwise an overall conference summary would be also great. Your choice entirely.

If you would be interested in this please email me or tweet me @visualisingdata.

To find out more about the event, visit the conference website and view the agenda, find out more about the key sessions and, indeed, register if you have not already done so.

Be among the first to experience the in-depth break-outs, hands-on training, world-class keynote speakers, and the one-on-one Tableau Doctor appointments our annual US Customer Conference is famous for. You’ll also hear from some of the industry’s most exciting experts. This will be the best opportunity to get your hands on the product, be the first to hear about (and try!) upcoming new features, attend sessions from industry thought leaders and those leading the technology push and trying to change the way people think about data.

LIVE Singapore! visualisations reveal the city’s dynamics

LIVE Singapore! is a really exciting project from the SENSEable City Lab and part of the Future Urban Mobility research initiative at the Singapore and MIT Alliance for Research and Technology. Researchers have collaborated on the development of an open platform for collating and publishing a range of innovative, real-time data visualisations about the city. It is being described as a “feedback loop between people, their actions, and the city“.

The researchers behind the project describe the purpose of these visualisations:

The visualizations aim to provide greater understanding of some of the city’s dynamics…  Giving people visual and tangible access to real-time information about their city enables them to take their decisions more in sync with their environment, with what is actually happening around them.

The project has so far developed a portfolio of six great visualisations which investigate different areas of interest and relevance to the city of Singapore:

The project is also focused on developing flexible and accessible API’s to allow developers to tap in to the potential of this body of work and enable the visualisations to incorporate ‘query and search’ to open up the practical benefits of true interactivity.

Impressive animated versions of these visualsiations make up the LIVE Singapore! exhibition which is on display at the Singapore Art Museum. Furthermore, two of the projections will be on show at Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Marina Bay City Gallery.

You can read more about the project, the findings about the dynamics of taxi movements in wet weather and Singapore’s increasing movement towards turning data into useful applications in this Strait Times article (sub required).

Google’s ‘Visualize Your Taxes’ contest winner announced

Google have announced the winners, runners-up and notable mentions for their recent ‘Visualize Your Taxes‘ challenge which invited designers to create data visualisations that would make it easier for US citizens to understand how the government spends their tax money.

The winner is a project titled ‘Where did my tax dollars go?‘ by developer Anil Kandangath. It is driven by a simple scenario entered by the user who are invited to input annual earnings and select how they filed. It then generates an interactive visualisation to explore how the taxes were used from these earnings.

The interface is nicely designed, the concepts are accessibly communicated and there is a certain pleasure from the interactivity but the principal visualisation component is a multi-segment pie chart and an accompanying donut chart which greatly undermines the effectiveness of this design.

In a week when there has been a refreshingly sensible, pragmatic and helpful discussion about the merits of the pie chart (Eager Eyes article), the deployment of this chart here simply demonstrates why it’s mis-use attracts so much negativity within the field.

Considering the membership of the judging panel and the nature of the recommended resources, with all due respect to the winner I’d suggest this is a rather disappointing outcome. In my eyes the ineffective use of the pie chart means it ultimately fails to meet the contest aim of ‘making it easier for US citizens to understand how the government spends their tax money’.

Which entry would have received your vote? My favourite so far has been the TaxMapper by John Halloran and Hermann Zschiegner. Check out all the entries.

Should HTML5 be considered a ‘Visualisation Resource’?

In my recently published Part 2 of the essential collection of visualisation resources I included HTML5 as a potential important language for creating visualisations. Having received some constructive comments and feedback from valued readers, I have decided to open up a discussion about whether to maintain HTML5 in this essential list, refine its description or remove it entirely.

Whilst not an expert, by any means, on this side of the technology spectrum, I decided to include HTML5 because I believed there was sufficient evidence to suggest that it could be deployed as an alternative/additional approach to creating web-based, interactive graphics. The growing volume (in both sense of the words) of coverage about Flash vs. HTML5 (inc.CSS3) also pointed towards this and is was covered by an interesting debate conducted in the comments on a Flowing Data post about ‘HTML5 visualisation readiness’.

With the benefit of hindsight, I would accept that using Arcade Fire’s Wilderness Downtown graphic was a high-profile but not the best way of ‘showing off’ the visualisation potential of HTML5. This work by Robby MacDonell certainly demonstrates a much more compelling application.

An example of the feedback I received was from Mason Brown, an interface/interaction designer:

HTML5 doesn’t really belong in this list. Yes, the Wilderness down is an awesome interactive music experience, but it’s like comparing apples to oranges. All of your other examples are solid visualization tools, but HTML5 is too broad. Might as well just say “internet”.

This view was supported by two other commenters/followers who agreed that they didn’t believe it was accurate and consistent to include HTML5 in this compilation of resources.

So, what do you think?

Do you think HTML5 could be viewed as a  means of creating visualisations or is it too broad a term? What could be a better definition or description to capture its potential visualisation-authoring attributes?

Leave a comment below, drop me an email or send me a tweet.

Part 3: The essential collection of visualisation resources

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

Best of the visualisation web… March 2011

At the end of each month I pull together a collection of links to some of the most relevant, interesting or thought-provoking 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 March 2011:

ReadWriteWeb | 3 Presentations on R: Data Mining, Web Development and Data Visualization

Rag Tag | A history of the world in 100 seconds

Flowing Data | Animation: The pain that is Los Angeles traffic

The Guardian | Arab spring: an interactive timeline of Middle East protests

Run of Play | Haunting animation of Gareth Bale’s performances vs. Inter Milan

Standford University | Course wiki site for Stanford’s Data Visualization programme/module

Harvard University | Website for the Harvard visualization programme/module

The Guardian | Data journalism broken down: what we do to the data before you see it

TedTalks | Deb Roy: The birth of a word

Communications of the ACM | Design Principles for Visual Communication

New York Times | When the Data Struts Its Stuff

Eddology | Why Startups Need To Blog: A Summary

Eye Magazine | Max Gadney argues that information design should be a compulsory part of every graphic design course

Freakalytics | Rapid Graphs for Tableau 6 book update now available

Patrick Cain | Demonstration of mapping using Google Fusion Tables

Flowing Data | German defense minister’s plagiarized PhD dissertation visualized

Smashing Magazine | How to choose a typeface

Revolution Analytics | Download the white paper: R is Hot

Core 77 | In defence of delight

Visual Journalism | Infographics and the Brain – Stephen Few

Graphic Sociology | Infographics inspire art | R. Justin Stewart

Infogrpahics News | How to create Google Maps directly from Google Docs

Luke W | Web App Masters: Steps to Beautiful Visualizations

New York Times | Map showing how Manhattan’s grid grew

Viz World | Milestones in the History of Visualization

Vimeo | Moritz Stefaner @ decoded‘10

Visual Journalism | Moviebarcodes – How many insights do you get from them?

New Scientist | Invisible Wi-Fi signals caught on camera

User Interface Engineering | Podcast of Noah Iliinsky – The Steps to Beautiful Visualizations

Scientific American | Infographics: The great circle debate

Eager Eyes | One chart to rule them all

Wired | Parasol doubles as a clock

Pop Tech | PopTech interview: Data visualizing Malcolm Gladwell, NASA’s Kepler project and color with Jer Thorp

Zeit Online | Tell-all telephone data

Visual Journalism | The Aesthetics of Conversations – Paolo Ciuccarelli

Junk Charts | The best way to handle two dimensions may be to not use two dimensions

Visual Journalism | The Death of Datavisualization in the News

Junk Charts | Too much art, not enough science in infographics

Flowing Data | Typographic world map and water colors

Information is Beautiful | Vintage infoporn – number 1

Perceptual Edge | Old BI and the Challenge of Analytics

Social Compare | Visualization comparison tool : visualize sizes, dimensions differences | Q&A with Nathan Yau

Nieman Journalism Lab | Voices: News organizations must become hubs of trusted data in a market seeking (and valuing) trust

Bloom Blog | Bloom’s Web 2.0 Expo talk: Data Visualization for Web Designers:

Mashable | Why Curation Is Just as Important as Creation

Seeing Complexity | Why visualize data? We don’t know (yet)

Discussion: Can visualisation influence people?

Enrico Bertini has triggered another important data visualisation discussion with his latest excellent piece on the Fell in Love with Data site. I wanted to extend the dialogue by presenting my thoughts from here rather than sat in a comments box.

At the crux of Enrico’s discussion is the matter of whether there is evidence out there revealing that visualisation can actually influence decision-making. He seeks suggestions for any studies that demonstrate this impact and, if they don’t exist, asks ‘why is this the case?’.

Enrico’s secondary point is to question why the concept of visualisation as a communication tool has been neglected as a topic of research in this field. I don’t entirely concur with the view that this sub-set of research activity has been neglected – any academic paper you’ve read that was concerned in some way with identifying effective methods of design will be enhancing the study of visualisation from both the analysis and communication perspectives.

I do take his point that, on the face of it, there is little available evidence about the consequences of communicated, good practice visualisation. I’m currently digging through a few years worth of papers to form one of my ‘essential resources’ post so I will specifically keep an eye out for any titles that strike me as dealing with this issue.

I believe it is important to see visualisation in the context of a wider system. Let’s consider a fundamental purpose of visualisation as being to optimise the communication of information through engaging design and accuracy of message. Once you have managed to secure sufficient attention through elegant display and have achieved the imparting of accurate information, should we also expect visualisation to hold the responsibility for facilitating a decision, triggering an action or eliciting a response of any sort?

There is a wealth of theory out there (far too much for me to have even scratched beneath the surface) about the process and mechanics of decision-making which reveals the non-linear, counter intuitive, often illogical influence that so many different variables have on the outcome such as pre-existing knowledge, preconceptions and prejudices, temporary mindset, general mood, gut instinct etc. Of course the availability of information will influence the evidential thoughts that lead to a response, even more so if it is information that has been interpreted accurately and efficiently, but as a component of the wider decision-making system it is competing with many other destabilising factors.

I would strongly urge anyone to read the book Turning Numbers into Knowledge by Jonathan Twomey. I’ve so far only got through selected chapters but it is a enlightening guide to how people do and how people should use numbers to enhance the decision-making activities involved in the act of problem solving.

Perhaps we need to consider a blend of communication tactics, deployed alongside good visualisation practice in order to maximise the communication impact. I’m thinking here about some of the elements presented in Made to Stick (by Chip and Dan Heath) and the Tipping Point (by Malcolm Gladwell) which introduce some of the different attributes believed to maximise the impact of communication such as story-telling, delivery format, oratory skills, credibility of the communicator, emotions etc.

The well-executed visualisation can only achieve so much, so lets not attach all our expectations to it alone!