Your chance to shape my training schedule

Over the past 18 months it has been a great thrill to have the opportunity to travel the world and deliver training courses in data visualisation. I have been to over 30 different cities (mainly around Europe and North America) during this time, picked up rather a lot of unattributed air miles and found all sorts of creative ways to get locked out of a hotel room.

I’m now looking to piece together my next schedule for 2013.


For the immediate period I am busy juggling all sorts of other types work as well as delivering a number of private training sessions but I want to get organised and plot out some potential events from July through to the end of the calendar year.

So, if you would be interested attending one of my one-day ‘Introduction to Data Visualisation’ training courses (more info) please send me an email with your name and desired location and I’ll add you to my master list.

The locations can be anywhere in the world. I might not be able to guarantee that I will ever get there but if the numbers interested are sufficient, you never know. Once I get a feel for the places where there might be substantial pockets of interest I will formulate a schedule and share details accordingly.

(* For taxation and corporate disclosure reasons I should clarify that the picture above is NOT my private company jet. Mine is the bigger one from where the photo was taken, the one shown is just my backup.)

BBC College of Journalism

I came across this online resource by chance but the BBC College of Journalism site looks an excellent repository for some handy tips about all sorts of communication-related disciplines that can be applied to the practice of effective data visualisation, such as reporting, presenting and good writing.

Surprised to see no data visualisation/graphics section on their as yet (unless I’ve missed it) but given the recent increase in visibility and activity of the BBC’s graphics and interactive work this would appear inevitable.


Twitter languages map of NYC

I’m not always positively struck by social-media related visualisations, however, I do like this Twitter languages map of New York project from James Cheshire, Ed Manley (of CASA) and John Barratt (of Trendsmap) – as well as several others. This follows on from a similar project to look at the patterns of Twitter-based language usage in London, which I had actually forgotten about.


As the title suggests, this project plots the location of tweets and differentiates, through a range of semi-transparent colour, the top ten languages found in these tweets (using Google translation tools to detect the language). The dataset used was a 8.5M large selection of geo-located tweets between Jan 2010 and Feb 2013.

With English clearly being the most popular I like how they have reduced the visibility and prominence of this largest sub-set of data by using grey to help us focus in on the remaining language prevalence. I also like the imposed limitation of just showing the top 10 languages – otherwise the extra language/categorical colour requirements would soon exceed the limit of our eye’s capabilities for distinguishing colour easily.

In terms of headline findings, here’s James’s brief analysis of some of the key patterns:

…Spanish (in blue) takes the top spot amongst the other language groups. Portuguese and Japanese take third and fourth respectively. Midtown Manhattan and JFK International Airport have, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most linguistically diverse tweets whilst specific languages shine through in places such as Brighton Beach (Russian), the Bronx (Spanish) and towards Newark (Portuguese). You can also spot international clusters on Liberty Island and Ellis Island and if you look carefully the tracks of ferry boats between them.

You can modify the view by zooming in/out and panning across the city region. You can also dim/reveal the road markings to get a more accurate sense of the geographical locations.


Ed has provided a more in-depth analysis of the data and James has provided more details of the project as well as alternative views of the data.

Best of the visualisation web… January 2013

At the end of each month I pull together a collection of links to some of the most relevant, interesting or thought-provoking web content I’ve come across during the previous month. Here’s the latest collection from January 2013.

You’ll see that I’m trying out a new structure in response to recent (and, to be fair, historic and avoided!) feedback:


Includes static and interactive visualisation examples, infographics and galleries/collections of relevant imagery.

Creative Bits | Annual repots become infographics

BitAesthetics | Paul Butler introduces a new way of looking at and visualising flight options

New Scientist | Global view of warming temperatures, let’s you see how things have changed over time in a location of your choosing

Guardian US | The good folks in the Interactive team re-deploy the framework used for last year’s popular gay rights visualisation, this time applied to gun laws state-by-state

UX Blog | ‘People dots: Seattle area commuting’ – More magic from John Nelson.

Propublica | Elegant interactive infographic examination of where Congress stands on gun issues

FastCo Design | ‘How A Civil War Vet Invented The American Infographic’

Biofabric | An alternative to the hairball network – ‘BioFabric uses a novel network presentation method that represents nodes as horizontal line segments, one per row.’

Guardian Datablog | ‘Black and white and read all over: 27 Guardian graphics from its history’

BBC News | ‘Tube 150th anniversary: How the Underground map evolved’

UX Blog | ‘A national portrait of drunk driving’

FastCo Design | ‘An App That Uses Dataviz To Digitally Track Your Moods’

FastCo Design | ‘Infographic: Sculptures Made By Measuring Wi-Fi Signals’

UX Blog | Another one from John Nelson (busy month John!) – this one is about ‘Biking and Walking to Work’

Neoformix | ‘The project ‘Novel Views’ consists of a series of visualizations of the novel Les Miserables’

LA Times | ‘How fast is the LAFD where you live?’

Guardian Datablog | ‘US presidential inauguration speeches: how does Obama’s second compare?’ – guest work by Santiago Ortiz

Bloomberg | Interactive ranking and comparisons of the world’s richest people.

Infosthetics | ‘TweetPing: Revealing worldwide Twitter activity in real time’

Adriano Attus | Super collection of painstakingly hand made and crafted visualisations

Flowing Data | How do you with the ‘Mercator Map Puzzle’?

Graphics Info | Infographic looking at the arteries of transit routes through Hong Kong | ‘Complexity is good, simplicity is overrated’

fjordnet | And on a related matter… ‘5 problems with simple’


The emphasis on these items is that they are less about visualisation images and are more article-focused, so includes discussion, discourse and interviews

Perceptual Edge | Stephen discusses his hopes for 2013, specifically a desire for a ‘slow data’ movement (as well as small and sure)

Guardian Environment | Australia adds new purple colour to its temperature maps as heat levels soar

Civic Infographics | Nice article by Guilio about infographics as a link between analysis and communication

aaronsw | Amongst endless articles written about the sad death of Aaron Swartz, this was an interesting account he wrote himself of his time on Edward Tufte’s course

SND | ‘Looking back: Page through Michael Stoll’s treasure island of infographic textbooks’

Daily M**l | Awful newspaper and website but I’m a sucker for visual illusions so there you go

Mother Nature Network | ‘How fast could you travel across the US in the 1800s?’

Civic Infographics | A subject close to my heart, ‘The Scandal of Clarity’

m.e.driscoll | ‘Data visualisation is a Halfway House’. (Though now I’ve re-read it properly, realised I misunderstood the argument. Read this for good follow up)

Perceptual Edge | Stephen introduces the concept of ‘Bandlines’ – sparklines enriched with information about magnitude and distribution

Software Studies Initiative | Lev Manovich’s article ‘presents visualization analysis of the films The Eleventh Year (1928) and Man with a Movie Camera (1929) by the famous Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov’

FastCo Design | ’10 Companies On The Cutting Edge Of Sports Data’

The Functional Art | Alberto discusses the emotive reaction in ‘Guns, data and infographics’

National Infographic | ‘Reinventing Nat Geo art, maps and graphics for the iPhone’

Tableau | Andy Cotgreave’s round up of the Best of the Tableau web during December 2012. That’s a good idea…

Graphic Sociology | Article exploring a range of vintage infographics about the US (such as disease mapping, propaganda pieces etc.) | If you do nothing else but read the first two lines you will learn from this piece.

Eager Eyes | ‘The State of Information Visualization, 2013’ – Robert’s look back over 2012 and view of 2013 and beyond | Interview with Alberto Cairo ‘Exploring The World With Infographics & Data Visualizations’

Economist | Reflective look through the task/demands of creating a suitable visualisation/chart

Viewtific | ‘The “art” of compromise: Is there room for compromise in designing data graphics?’

LinkedIn | Hilary Mason discusses how to ‘find a great data science job’

Presentation Zen | Discussing the need to teach visual literacy and citing interviews with Martin Scorsese and George Lucas

Core77 | ‘Things every Designer should do at least once in their career’

Learning & Development

These links cover tutorials, learning opportunities, how-tos etc.

VizWiz | Andy shows a workaround for how to create Stream Graphs in Tableau 8

Word of Data | Rene pulls together a range of options for learning and developing data visualisation skills and knowledge

Indiana University | Announcing the launch of the IU Information Visualisation MOOC

JBDeaton | ‘How to generate ternary plots in Matplotlib’. It is a brief tutorial but really included because I like the idea of a ternary plot.

DashingD3.js | Collection of d3.js tutorials and general learning resources

Presentation Zen | ’13 great books to help you succeed, create, & communicate better in 2013′

Speaker Deck | Scott Murray’s slides from meetup in San Francisco – ‘The Value of Process’

The Why Axis | Guest post from Job Schwabish – ‘Breaking Excel Defaults – A Government Chart Remake’

The Functional Art | Another issue dear to me ‘Intuitiveness vs. learnability in interactive visualization’

Subject News

Includes announcements within the field, brand new sites, new (to me) sites, new books and generally interesting developments.

blprnt | “New Year, New Company: Introducing The Office for Creative Research”

Malofiej21 | The Malofiej 21 site is launched including announcements on the speakers and conference schedule

Form Follows Function | Beautifully crafted site let’s you explore a collection of interactive experiences

Google Books | ‘Information Design: An Introduction’, by Rune Pettersson.

Interactive Isotype | New site I came across that focuses on content relating to ‘adding interactivity and animations to static isotype productions’ | 13 Conferences to attend in 2013

Flowing Data | First announcement of Nathan’s new book (coming out in April time)

Brainpickings | New book ‘100 Diagrams that Changed the World’, by Scott Christianson


Any other items that may or may not be directly linked to data visualisation but might have a data/technology focus or just seem worthy of sharing | Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal for an information management system that, as I understand, seemed to do well

Laughing Squid | ‘Original Star Wars Trilogy As Maps’

FastCo Design | ‘A Gloriously Detailed, Hand-Drawn Map Of NYC’

Bureau of Investigative Journalism | Sub-site dedicated to data around the covert war on terror, particularly interesting as it contains great deal of data on drone strikes

Visualising the strength of tea

Sometimes I find myself lazily defaulting to posting things on twitter but forget that, on occasion, they are of such grand importance that, really, they should be shared with the wider world.

Here is one such example. This morning I shared a picture of my tea cup. Exciting, right? Well, this is no ordinary tea cup, it’s actually special. You see this cup has an ingenius visual system for helping you get the right quantity of milk/strength of your tea using a handy reference guide on the inside of the cup.


It is particularly useful for those of you who work in office environments and you simply have no faith that your willing colleague (let’s call him ‘Martin’) will nail the task.

The last thing you want to have to do – once again – is smile through gritted teeth as Martin delivers his milky-nonsense and asks you “how does that look?”.

Well, frankly Martin, it’s been nothing short of pond-water for all these years, but thankfully your days of tea-making ineptitude are over.

You can buy these mugs (also available for coffee) directly from SuckUK as well as tons of other weird stuff you will probably buy but never need, use or justify.

3D smoke visualisation of world’s carbon emissions

Thanks to FastCo Exist I’ve come across this interesting use of WebGL to create a 3D interactive visualisation of the world’s carbon emissions.


Designed by Robbie Tilton, the extent of each country’s carbon impact is portrayed through the simulation of a plume of black smoke, with the usual suspects such as China and US thundering huge smoggy towers into the sky. The globe is fully interactive (navigable not zoomable) and you can view across the past 5 years’ of data to see how things are changing (more than you’d expect in such a relatively short space of time).

You can also view a more pragmatic bar chart view to see the comparison of countries and a slightly less effective doughnut chart to see the part-to-whole story of the continents’ contributions.



OK, maybe it doesn’t offer anything we didn’t already know in terms of the dire situation we’re facing and those that are most responsible but I do think design concepts like this, using the logical and impactive dark metaphor of sinister black choking clouds, probably have a greater chance of succeeding to reach and affect people.

Similar examples spring to mind including this Black Balloons ad, this WWF image and this Carbon Visuals project.

The boom of the sad graph designer…

Thinking of re-profiling your work in to a more lucrative direction? Look no further than the latest boom industry – the ‘sad graph’ designer.

Here’s a funny clip taken from Charlie Brooker’s BBC Weekly Wipe show.

Why I like really this visualisation: US Gun Murders 2010

This week Periscopic released a striking new project titled ‘US Gun Murders in 2010‘. It has already been showcased on all the major data visualisation and design sites, and rightly so. I love it. I think it is a superb piece of design execution but more than that, it is an extremely clever and well thought through project and I have tweeted to that effect. However, there was a tweet posted back in November by Robin Richards that has stuck with me and I think needs to be taken on board.

It is all well and good declaring that we like something but, as this tweet expresses, sometimes taking the time to explain this in more detail is important, not necessarily for Robin who is an experienced designer but certainly for beginners in the field to help learn ‘why’ something works so well.

So, I felt I should add a bit more detail to my declaration of love for this work, picking out a few features that resonated with my ‘like’ senses. Here is a blitz of all the main reasons I would hold this up as a great data visualisation project:


The clarity and choice of narrative/editorial angle

Data representation












Celebrating three years of blogging!

Every now and then I’m happy to justify to myself a rather indulgent post and today has a particularly warranted feel to it. Today marks the third anniversary since I launched and published my first post.

379 blog posts later, taking a step back, it is quite remarkable how much my professional life has changed since I penned that first post on February 5th, 2010. I’m fortunate that the moment got captured on film…


Memory lane…

Back then I was working full time as an Information Manager at the University of Leeds and the blog was my attempt to maintain the momentum of learning and developing within this field that had begun three years before that.

Through writing about the subject, keeping abreast of latest developments and trying to carve out a personal conviction about the subject, it proved to be a real passion, even though the efforts going into the subject were great and taking up all my spare time on top of the day job.

I always hoped I’d get as far as three years’ unbroken activity but I never foresaw that I’d have sufficient content to write about in such a sustained way. I take my hat off (the one in the picture) to all those who maintain the discipline and passion for keeping their own blogs and websites going and, moreover, showing the same consistency of frequency and quality year-on-year.

Over the subsequent months and years since I started I have been exceptionally fortunate to be in position to evolve from a ‘normal’ job existence to a full-time freelance professional. That is unquestionably a result of the blog as a shop window and the footfall that comes from the loyalty of long term visitors and the interest of new readers.

I want to sincerely thank all of those (thankfully) hundreds of thousands of you who have spent your precious time reading my musings. If I could shake the hand of each and everyone of you I’d probably hurt my wrist and, eventually, pick up some sort winter vomiting bug. It’s not your fault, there’s a lot going round. Anyway, where was I…

Picking up the pace…

I’ve not been remotely as prolific in my postings as I would have liked to have been. So many times I start a draft post, then time passes and I either lose my train of thought or the moment passes (or more likely Nathan or Andrew beat me to the line!).

I do hope to finally catch up with my life (bit dramatic maybe) over the next month and then get back to my desired ratio of a post every other day. I only want to post when there’s something worth saying otherwise it is just noise. I’ve got books to read and review, new tools to play with, interviews with cool people to do, and all sorts of new content and ideas to get down out of my head.

I particularly need to update my resources posts profiling all the many tools, applications and programmes. I’ve got a list of about 30/40 more items to add to this collection. I will do this as soon as possible because I know these are popular items for all levels of readers.

Above that though I need to invest some time or money (or probably both) on my long-term planned site migration and redesign. I want it to look less like a hobbyist wordpress site and to invoke a much stronger design aesthetic and user experience. That will be a big job and I’m not really looking forward to the point of no return when I start it but it will be worth it.

Above all else, however, I really want to find more time to work on publicly visible designs. I’m hoping to have a football based project to share/show in the next month or so but I need to get more stuff out there. In my book and on my training sessions I always emphasise how practice, practice, and more practice is the most important route to refining your skills and that’s the same for beginner and experienced designers alike. When you’ve worked on one visualisation project, you’ve worked on one visualisation project: everyone is different and offers new challenges and dynamics.

Part of this will involve me finally facing up to my many shortcomings on the programming side of this world. My intermediate skills in some and entry level skills in other languages are personally unacceptable so I hope to set aside some time to conquer (unlikely) that challenge. Thankfully, there are many coding heroes out there making these things more accessible and achievable.

On the training side, after next week’s London event I am taking a short break from running my public schedule. I will be focusing on delivering a number of private sessions over the next few months and also looking to reboot my materials, giving them a nice lick of paint and bringing them up to date with my very latest thoughts and approaches. I’m also working hard to develop materials for the MICA Information Visualization MPS programme for which I’m delighted to have been asked to be a guest lecturer on one/two modules.

That’s enough from me for now. Another massive thanks to everyone out there and look forward to a fourth year of blogging!