One of the most interesting and inspiring consequences of running a website and writing a blog comes when you explore the geographical spread of visitors who view your content. At the last count, people from 177 different countries have visited my site since its inception at the start of last year.
My global ignorance
Of course, within this spread of visitors is a strong pattern of distribution and it is no surprise that the largest quantity of visitors come from English speaking regions, particularly the UK, USA, Australia and Canada.
As somebody only capable of consuming blog feeds, tweets and web content from English speaking authors, this dominant pattern of visitors is consistent with my relatively narrow exposure to ‘western’ visualisation practices. However, I am keenly aware from my several years in this field (especially through my World Cup visualisations series) that there are wonderfully creative developments popping up all over the world.
My recent attendance at Visualizing Europe exposed me to many inspirational designers, speakers and thought-leaders from all across the continent. I decided that I wanted to do something active to address the significant gap in my awareness of the progress of visualisation around the world. I’m sure I’m not the only one too.
Visualisation around the world
To find a solution to this I am kicking off a new series of articles, ingeniously titled ‘Visualisation around the world’.
I am offering an open invite to any designers, authors, academics, bloggers, analysts or just simply residents, from as many different countries as possible, to illuminate the rest of us with your observations about the visualisation scene in your country or region.
You will have the platform of this website to share your analysis of the development of visualisation practice in your locality:
These are just a few suggestions for the potential structure of your articles, they would otherwise be completely open to your own creativity and structure of observations.
List of regions that need reporters like you!
Here is a list of key regions that I compiled from a Google Analytics map to define the groupings of volunteer authors/representatives I would love to hear from:
This is not to limit the list to just these defined places and if more than one author volunteers for the same place I’ll happily publish multiple perspectives about the same area, or combine into a single piece.
Whether you write about your entire region or represent a more detailed view of your own country, I’m happy either way. To be honest the more detail, the more specific the location and the more author volunteers, the better!
How do I volunteer to represent my country/region?
Very easily. Just drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, let me know which country or region you would like to write about and I’ll set you on your way! All you need to do then is get thinking, get gathering and get writing, then send me your article content and I’ll publish it.
I’m positive that across the geographical representation of my frequent visitors, my RSS feed subscribers, my Twitter followers and Facebook friends there are people across the world with a passion for this subject.
So please get in touch and let’s learn more about the world of data visualisation!
I was invited a couple of weeks ago to do some brief filming for the BBC. They were compiling a piece for the BBC Technology website about data visualisation and wanted my contribution to share some opinions about the key principles and better practices of this field. You can view the article here…
… and watch an embedded version of the video below.
The other person profiled in the video is Dr Martin Austwick of University College London (UCL) Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis – he and his colleagues have done some great work visualising transport patterns across the UK, amongst other things.
I am excited to share the news that I will be launching my public data visualisation training workshops in Autumn 2011. Initially, these 1-day introductory sessions will be available across the UK and Ireland, but I will be looking to spread the offering to Europe, North America and beyond during 2012.
I am now collecting early expressions of interest from individuals or organisations who want to be kept up to date with future announcements or may wish to attend or host an event. In order to make these sessions as geographically convenient as possible, depending on these initial patterns of interest I will do my best to schedule a training session in a town or city near you.
Visualisation for the Masses
We live in an era where data permeates all aspects of our lives: consciously or not we are directly responsible for the creation of unbelievable quantities of the stuff. In the workplace, in particular, more of us than ever are now being tasked with exploring, making sense of and communicating data. This represents both a great responsibility and opportunity to harness important insight. Yet often our noble intent and willing effort is not necessarily matched by effective capability.
I am motivated by an ambition to help bring data visualisation knowledge and skills to the masses. Its not a particularly novel cause but one that I am grateful to have the opportunity to pursue. Reflecting the intent of this blog, the training workshop events will strive to challenge and inspire you towards a greater level of visualisation capability.
The aim of these events will be to provide you with a comprehensive introduction to contemporary data visualisation practice. You will be equipped with a complementary balance of foundation knowledge and practical capabilities that will enable you to undertake visualisation challenges with greater confidence and lasting impact.
The content will combine an ideal blend of visualisation theory, design principles and methods, best practice examples, tools of the trade and learning resources. Furthermore, as befitting the workshop title, you will have the opportunity to work through visualisation case study challenges to apply and refine your learning. Content will be extremely flexible and customised to suit your needs and those of the collective audience.
I will be sharing more specific details about the coverage, structure and cost of the training workshops in the next couple of months, but in the meantime please feel free to contact me via email@example.com to register your interest or to find out more.
Look forward to hearing from you!
This is the ninth article in my Visualisation Insights series. The purpose of this series is to provide readers with unique insights into the field of visualisation from the different perspectives of those in the roles of designer, practitioner, academic, blogger, journalist and all sorts of other visual thinkers. My aim is to bring together these interviews to create a greater understanding and appreciation of the challenges, approaches and solutions emerging from these people – the visualisation world’s cast and crew.
Sarah Slobin is a Visual Journalist and Graphics Editor for the Wall Street Journal. With over 15 years experience as a graphics editor for some of the most prestigious American publications (New York Times, Fortune Magazine as well as the WSJ) Sarah occupies a seat at the ‘top table’ of contemporary visualisation and infographic practice.
I am really fortunate and grateful that Sarah agreed to take part in this article. As well as being an extremely entertaining writer, she has a wealth of experience and personal insights about her career from which any visualisation practitioner, new and established alike, can learn.
In this interview I wanted to find out more about Sarah’s rise to prominence in the newspaper graphics field, some background behind two recent WSJ visualisation projects and generally her thoughts on contemporary visualisation practices.
Can you give me a brief outline of your career and education/qualifications background leading up to your current role as a visual journalist for the WSJ?
I’ve learned on the job, but I grew up around art. My dad was a professor of graphic design. We had a stormy relationship so I tried to stay away from anything visual. Still, every job I had I ended up designing the poster, making the flier…
After college I was hired at the New York Times in news administration as an assistant. I kept organizing our processes; I set up a recruiting database, the first newsroom Facebook. They put me in charge of coordinating the Pulitzer Prize submissions – which is like making 33 magazines simultaneously. Ultimately, my mentor Soma Golden Behr noticed I was good with data and design asked me if I was interested in graphics. Of course, I said no. The following year she asked again and I change my mind and got a tryout at the graphics desk.
About a year late, the week I was promoted, my father fell ill. I flew home to Chicago and while he was in the intensive care I was able to tell him that I was going to be a graphics editor. He died soon after, so there was a passing of the torch.
Essentially I spent 15 years at the Times, working my way through the desks — covering Metro, National, Foreign and investigative projects and then running the Business Graphics Desk. Graphics editors at the Times are also reporters which suits my personality – a former executive editor once referred to me as ‘The Intrepid‘.
Then I got an offer from Fortune Magazine to be the Infographics Director. It was a chance to learn to make magazines, run my own shop and collaborate in a different setting. Fortune was an explosive space for me creatively. I was there about 3 years and then the economy crashed, I was laid off (I wrote about it for the Society of News Design).
So I partnered with Tommy McCall in his infographics studio, which was a crash course in client work – my favorite being Propublica – and then landed at the Journal where they were making a push to expand visual journalism.
Can you describe your role and the department you work in at the WSJ?
My job is to make graphics for print and web. My role is to introduce new graphic forms and ways of thinking about visual journalism into the newsroom.
When was the first time you recognised your passion for infographic/visualisation design? What was your Eureka moment?
While I was still an assistant in the graphics desk I pitched a standalone infographic on the evolution of Batman’s costume (pegged to the opening of the movie.) I didn’t even know how to make graphics yet, or that we could have photo editors help with imagery so I did all the photo research myself. In the 1940s Batman was practically wearing underpants over longjohns, it was hysterical. By the time graphic published, I was hooked.
Who were/are the peers (authors/designers/practitioners/academics) in this field who have had most influence on your career, particularly your personal design style and principles?
Working under Charles Blow at the NYT I was like a little blossoming flower (he’s their Visual Op-Ed columnist now). Charles had the ability to find you work he knew would capture your imagination, then he’d gently encourage you to go off a cliff with the idea. At the 11th hour he’d swoop in and edit/art direct and fix it and make it so much better. It was infuriating. And I learned a ton.
My style is a combination of design I’m drawn to – Arne Jacobsen furniture, James Thurber cartoons, Robert Rauschenberg collages – and design I can make to compensate for my shortcomings, which are myriad. For instance, I’ve learned to make offbeat tension functional because I don’t have the patience for mathematical precision. I also like to make graphics out of things.
Principles? I try to answer ‘why do we care?’
From THE YEARS WITH ROSS by James Thurber (1894-1961)
What is the best piece of design advice you have received?
My first year at Fortune all the graphics I did were based on everything I already knew how to do. Then this art director, Alice Alves, who was in charge of the 500 issue gave me this collection of beautiful infographics to show me what she wanted for the issue. And it was like, ‘Really, I can do this?’. So from that point forward the graphics I made were limited by my imagination, not my past knowledge.
One of the highest profile visualisation projects emerging from WSJ last year was the ‘What they know’ project, can you give me some background behind this project? How did it come about? What was the motivation?
‘What They Know’ was the brainchild of a tremendous reporter, Julia Angwin. She runs the Digits blog and created the series around the software tracking industry, something most of us don’t know much about. Julia essentially went out and gathered a team of folks who knew how important the series would be. I signed on.
How did you identify the design approach for the visualisation? What other approaches did you consider (but ultimately reject)?
Julia sent me some the data and I began playing with ways to visualize it. Something that started working was this circle. Then my colleague Andrew Garcia Phillips was standing behind me and got interested in what I was doing, we started brainstorming. AGP and I have worked together for ages, we have this this flow where we can hand ideas back and forth and they get better.
The entire WTK series was built around this database, so Andrew and I knew the data (which is incredibly complex) would keep coming back at us. We wanted the visualization to work as a recurring signature for the series so he wrote a script to make the chart live as an interactive, output for print, and function as a tool for reporters and ultimately readers/users to explore the data.
A big part of the process was consensus building among the editors because the form was new. In the end, Andrew added this linear narration with characters that sealed the deal. Then of course, the series started to grow and we did mobile trackers and the data changed, so we had to rethink the graphic and rebuild consensus which rough. Then we needed a visualization for the homepage…it was fluid, to say the least.
One of the key aspects of any creative process is knowing when to stop iterating a design: how did you/do you handle this issue with this project?
When the editors leave you alone?
No, just kidding. I tend to question my ideas and I depend heavily on editors to see what I don’t. I’d be terrified to make work in a vacuum. When someone suggests a change, I try it. If it makes the work better, great. If not, I go back to a previous version. In the end, a week later you come back to something and see how you could have done things differently anyway. Iteration is a spiral, ideas are for sharing.
A more recent project launched at WSJ has been the Jet Tracker. Can you give me some background behind this project? What was the motivation/objective?
Mark Maremont, who was part of the team that won the Pultizer at the WSJ for backdating, FOI’d the blocked flight records of private jets from the FAA. If you analyze these flight patterns they surface how this perk is misused, as well as travel routes around events like mergers and destinations like resorts. Again, I saw a huge opportunity to visualize flight data – we have 6.8 million records. Mark and Tom McGinty, who is a powerhouse database journalist, pulled data from other sources, cross-referencing the FAA data to build out their reporting.
How did you approach the design of the visualisation map and the interactive functionality? What software/technical resources did you use to develop it?
The answer to that comes from Jovi Juan, who runs the interactive team:
Basically we used coda and bbedit to write the code, a commandline interface to update the code base. We used Subversion and Versions to keep everyone’s code in line.
For tweaking the look in HTML, firebug and safari’s developer tools were essential.
…initial comps and wireframes we did in Photoshop and Illustrator.
What insights are you hoping for people will pull out from this work? Any plans to take this project further? Any follow ups?
One thing that was important to us was that the jet tracker was shareable/social, so you can easily tweet or put what you’ve found on Facebook. We’re watching this as it builds. There’s tremendous conversation among readers about the utility of the data. So that alone is interesting. As for plans, the FAA is in the process of making a decision on whether or not this information should be made public. We’re following that.
How do you maintain the necessary innovative juices in what is such a pressurised but creative environment?
I thrive on adrenalin, so pressure is oddly comfortable for me. At the same time, I’m very good at disconnecting completely from my work for a couple of reasons; I know that I need time to recover and empty my head so I can start fresh. I know my brain is always processing my work in the background so walking away, or walking over the Brooklyn Bridge is purposeful for me. I also live on the internet and consume mass quantities of art and design and illustration in all it’s forms. Then I fall in love with an idea. It sticks with me. If I carry it in the back of my mind later on I’ll bump into a chance to use it. Plus, I love my life. I’m blessed in many many ways.
How would you compare the environment of a newspaper graphics today with that of when you first came into the field? What factors have changed the most (perhaps away from the obvious of technology)?
The journalism hasn’t changed. It’s still the story that drives everything, but now the visual story and the data story have risen. For a lot of old-school journalists this is an uncomfortable place to play, simply because they are left-brain thinkers. It’s short-sighted, though, to devalue any sort of thinking, it’s like discriminating against someone for having green eyes. I see it at as a good thing that delivering news across multiple platforms has opened us up to creative approaches. Design has a seat at the table alongside the written word. One doesn’t negate the other.
What are your general thoughts on contemporary visual journalism? What do you see as the main challenges, opportunities, concerns etc?
We’re just at the outset of working with this massive influx of data and building tools that people can use to visualize information. If you think about it, every user interface is an infographic. I have tons more to say on this topic in my post on Mixonline.
The ‘Dogerfly’ – Sarah’s vision of the infographics field circa 2060
Away from visual journalism, what things excite you about the way the visualisation in general is advancing? Are there any aspects that frustrate or disappoint you?
I really enjoy the intersection of data and… art, sculpture, science, the web. Currently I’m obsessed with social media and the implications it has as layer of sourcing and interaction on top of what we’re already building online.
What’s the most unusual infographic project request or subject you’ve been asked to design?
At Fortune we made a chart out of cheese.
Cheese. The next generation of essential dairy visualisation tools?
Finally, would you have any advice to students or emerging designers looking to move into a career in Visual Journalism?
To embellish Joseph Campbell a little… Follow your bliss. What else is there?
I’m extremely grateful to Sarah for taking part in this interview, offering some really interesting and fun insights into her world at the Wall Street Journal and her life as a visual journalist. I wish her and the team at WSJ all the best for the future. You can follow Sarah’s twitter updates via @sarahslo and keep up with her projects on her personal website.
This week we have seen a great deal of buzz about Data Without Borders, a new project conceived by Jake Porway, a talented data scientist and member of the celebrated New York Times Research & Development team.
Data Without Borders aims to establish a ‘data scientist exchange’, connecting up the expert community of visualisation and analytical practitioners with non-profit and NGO organisations, typically custodians of the most important social, environmental and community data and problem contexts.
Big companies like Google and Amazon recognize the importance of dedicated data science teams and can support fulltime analysts, but non-profits, though they may have rich and interesting datasets, don’t have the resources to capitalize on their data or may not even know the value of the data they already collect.
Working on a freelance and pro-bono basis, data scientists will be able to help these organisations with data collection, analysis, visualisation and other related challenges to draw out key insights about important subjects.
Despite having only been launched earlier this week, it has already caught the attention and imagination of the visualisation community. Whilst I’m sure its not the first time this concept will have been kicked about as an idea, Jake’s prominence in the field, the word of mouth influence of some key followers, positive and widespread coverage (such as this article in the Guardian yesterday) and the growth and maturity of the visualisation field have proven very effective at getting the word out.
Its clearly very early days so keep a close eye on developments, which are sure to be fairly rapid given the high interest shown. You can either sign up for the e-mail list or follow the Twitter (@DataNoBorders) and Facebook accounts for updates.
The ongoing flow of data visualisation contests continues with the latest challenge from Visualizing.org focused on vulnerable populations around the World. I imagine some of you may be thinking ‘oh no, not another competition!‘, but the savvy ones amongst should you see this as another excellent opportunity to practice your skills, contribute positively to an important issue and potentially win a great prize!
The best place for details about this challenge can be found on the Visualizing.org page:
Last year, UN Global Pulse launched a large-scale mobile phone based survey to ask people from 5 countries in different regions of the world how they are dealing with the effects of the global economic crisis. We’ve got the complete results of this unprecedented SMS survey. Visualizing and UN Global Pulse challenge you to visualize the voices of vulnerable populations in times of global crisis.
They are looking for contestants to create creative but informative visualisations that tackle one or more of the following:
Maywa Montenegro at Visualizing.org told me: “We’re pretty excited about this challenge as it involves using SMS text (the data set) to help the UN tap into the pulse of vulnerable populations around the world. The winner gets $2000 plus an all-expense paid trip to the UN headquarters in New York.”
That is an extremely appealing prize for what will be a really interesting and worthy challenge. The deadline is July 25.
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 May 2011:
Ideas – Fortune Grey | The climate debate is a failure of data visualisation – can we tell data stories better?
The Dohop Travel Blog | 6 unusual city maps – locals vs tourists
Eager Eyes | A middle ground
TEDTalks | Aaron Koblin: Artfully visualizing our humanity
Typetoken | Typetoken is a new online magazine that asks you to join its journey into the symbolic world of typography
Fell In Love With Data | Are you a real data visualization warrior? Participate to the VAST challenge!
OUseful.Info | Fragments: Glueing different data sources together with Google Refine
Culture Lab | Data as you’ve never visualised it before
Fell In Love With Data | Data visualization and influence (Part 1)
New York Times | The death of a terrorist: A turning point?
Datavisualization.ch | Food Consumed: Lauren Manning, a New York based designer, explores various methods to visualize one single data set for her thesis
Dexigner | This is the story of agriculture and the green economy
Infosthetics | Google Correlate: Find search queries that correlate with real-world data
Econym | Google Maps API tutorial
Flowing Data | How to map connections with great circles
Hyperakt | Visual analysis of the European Cups/Champions League Finals 1956 – 2011
fastco Design | Infographic Of The Day: Ben Fry And GE Bring Health Care Crisis To iPad
Dynamic Diagrams | Follow the dots, not the lines
Sage | Information Visualization, an international, peer-reviewed journal, is essential reading for researchers and practitioners of information visualization
Matthew Ericson | A list of interactive graphics mentioned in his speech at the International Journalism Festival about the interactive graphics and data visualizations produced at The New York Times
Information Age | Is information a human right?
OECD | Interactive tool to see how your country performs on the topics you feel make for a better life
Jerome Cukier | OECD Better life index – a post mortem
O’Reilly Radar | Lessons of the Victorian data revolution
LukeW | Web App Masters: Notes from Noah Iliinsky’s ‘Steps to Beautiful Visualizations’ presentation
Matthew Healey | Processing and visualisation with Jer Thorp
Meaning in Communication | The Science of Persuasion
Monster Swell | Slides for ‘Fixing reality with data visualization’
Infosthetics | Number Picture is a web application that enables you to create and share fresh and interesting tools for visualizing data.
One.org | Stamen Design’s ‘One – The data report 2011’
Cnet | Planetary app turns music library into galactic art (Q&A)
Fathom | Some thoughts on where visualization is going – Ben Fry
Domus Web | The design curator of MoMA reflects on the currency of visualization design
Drawar | The boundaries of pretty design
Washington Monthly | The Information Sage – Meet Edward Tufte, the graphics guru to the power elite who is revolutionizing how we see data.
Eager Eyes | Visualization choice influences decisions
Visualizing.org | Q&A with Moritz Stefaner
Vizzuality | Visualizing the latest spanish elections
Fell In Love With Data | Do visualizations need to be “accurate”?
Bloomberg | A collection on animated visual insights – be careful, this might hurt your eyes…
CR Blog | Universal Everything’s Deutsche Bank videowall
@SeeingStructure | Hundreds of years of water flow recorded and visualized in stone
New York Times | New ways to exploit raw data may bring surge of innovation, a study says
Fell In Love With Data | Data Visualization and Influence (Part 2) – examples and links
Google Think Insights | “We base our business on this belief, and do the studies to back it up. This site is where we share with you what we’ve learned.”
Eager Eyes | A Middle Ground
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 April 2011:
NYT Labs | Project Cascade is a firt of its kind tool to analyse the structures which underly sharing activity on the web, initially applied to NYT content.
FastCo Design | More detail on Project Cascade
Computerworld | 22 free tools for data visualization and analysis
Declan Butler | A population density map to help provide context to a nuclear power plant proximity analysis
Clearly and Simply | An Underrated Chart Type: The Band Chart
Edward Tufte | The work of Charles Joseph Minard
Typographic Maps | Typographic Maps accurately depict the streets and highways, parks, neighborhoods, coastlines, and physical features of the city using nothing but type
Flowing Data | Beauty of Maps available in its entirety
Perceptual Edge | Teradata, David McCandless, and yet another detour for analytics
Flowing Data | Business intelligence vs. infotainment – the most commented, debated and generally talked about visualisation theory issue of the year so far
Fell in Love With Data | Can visualization influence people? I mean can we prove it? – arguably the second most discussed theoretical matter of the year!
Infosthetics | Can we keep up? A physical data visualisation using sponges and water
Online Journalism Blog | Data for journalists: JSON for beginners
Online Journalism Blog | Data for journalists: understanding XML and RSS
Guardian Data Blog | Data journalism broken down: what we do to the data before you see it
Infosthetics | Data visualization survival kit: Creating visualizations in the wild
Deutsche Welle | Data visualizations emerge across newsrooms, online publishers
NYT Learning Network | Data Visualized: More on teaching with infographics
Density Design | EXPO 2015 Themes Visualization
NYT Business Day | When the data struts its stuff
Data Pointed | Growth Rings – Maps Of U.S. Population Change, 2000-2010
Poynter | How to make a heat map in Google Fusion Tables
CNN | Fernando Viegas and Martin Wattenberg article ‘How to make data look sexy’
Infosthetics | HyperCities: Overlaying the Historical Maps of a City
Creative Bits | If logos could tell the truth
In Graphics | In Graphics – the magazine for visual people
Rohit Bhargava | The 5 models Of content curation
Intersect | Capture experiences in time and place and connect to people who cross your path — past, present, and future
NYT Personal Tech | Illustrating your life in graphs and charts
Max Gadney | Solution in search of a problem
Datavis.ca | Milestones in the history of thematic cartography, statistical graphics and data visualsiation
Pete Warden | Data Science Toolkit 0.35 released
Title | Pete Warden’s application to map the information your iPhone records about your movements
DataVisualization.ch | Review of the SEE#6 Conference
SEE#6 | Video stream of the SEE#6 Conference presentations/talks
CNN | Software brings Johnny Cash back to life
Perceptual Edge | The Chartjunk Debate: A Close Examination of Recent Findings
Wired | Tilt-shifted ski resort delivers thrills in miniature
Neoformix | Tweet Topic Explorer
Core 77 | Visuaklize time in color form with ZIIIRO’s new wristwatch designs
Drawar | What is Design?
Flowing Data | When charts attack
Epic Graphic | When function trumps form in infographics
Peltier Tech Blog | Why do we love pie charts?
UX Matters | Why great designers steal—and are proud of it
Visual Journalism | The death of data visualization in the news
Epic Graphic | 21 everyday visualisations
O’Reilly Radar | Maps aren’t easy – Pete Warden on digital map creation and data journalism tools.
Eye Magazine | Mapping it up – Embrace the inner cartographer of artists and graphic designers
Wired | Wikimedia Commons celebrates 10 million free files