To mark the milestone of each mid-year and end of year I try to take a reflective glance over the previous 6 months period in the data visualisation field and compile a collection of some of the most significant developments. These are the main projects, events, new sites, trends, personalities and general observations that have struck me as being important to help further the development of this field.
At the end of 2012 I published a collection for the final 6 months of 2012 and now I’d like to mark the first half of 2013 with my latest perspective. I look forward to hearing from you with suggestions for the developments you believe have been most significant.
And so, as ever, in no particular order…
During this period we have seen the emergence of a number of projects that portray emotive subject matter. The US Gun Deaths project by Periscopic and Out of Sight, Out of Mind work by Pitch Interactive. Both projects were entirely self-initiated (ie. not client work) motivated by a personal connection and response to the subject matter in question. The great success of these projects, in my mind, is the portrayal of a more humanised view of a subject’s underlying data, seeing it more than just names, numbers and words but as people, as victims. The design characteristics employed, such as the dramatically slow pace of each project’s opening, helped to convey both the resolution of the individual and the shock of the aggregation. I wrote in detail about the Gun Deaths project, as did Alberto Cairo, and Robert Kosara commentated more generally on the emergence of this style of visualisation. Also check out Jonathan Corum’s counterpoints and forensic analysis of the Gun Deaths visualisation. Next up? Here’s another subject with a compelling dataset and endless possible narratives.
Last time out I raised the idea that I felt quality infographics were starting to reclaim the agenda, after a few years of trash. There’s still a mixed bag but it only serves to remind you of the quality of great work when you see it. Aside from the usual customers, I wanted to particularly focus on celebrating two masters of the craft, whose work has been particularly visible on my radar over the past 6 months: Richard Johnson, Assistant Managing Editor for Graphics & Illustration at Canada’s The National Post, and Adolfo Arranz, Senior infographic artist and illustrator at South China Morning Post. Check out their respective portfolios and take pleasure from the technical brilliance each brings to their graphics, both characterised by their natural illustration talent.
If there was one name that kept popping up on sites via my numerous RSS feeds, or mentioned all over my twitter timeline, it was Giorgia Lupi and her team at Accurat. OK, that’s two names but you get what I mean. The output of work from Accurat has been quite phenomenal over the past year, in particular, with a veritable deluge of fascinating new pieces for the La Lettura segment of Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera as well as their own projects. The style and concept of this body of work is quite unique. Whilst some pieces can be occasionally tricky to decode, the sheer imagination in approach mixed with eye-watering precision (whilst also often working within the constraints of static work) sets them apart as one of the most innovative design studios in the field today. For her own part, Giorgia has been a frequent name on the speaking circuit and,whilst I haven’t crossed paths with her yet in 2013, I have seen plenty of coverage of the great impression her work has created.
One of the most significant articles published during this first six months came in the shape of Stephen Few’s highly critical but typically well-constructed post about the shortcomings, in his view, of the latest version 8 of Tableau. Irrespective of your level of agreement with Stephen’s points, you can’t fail to acknowledge his passion and clarity of conviction, coupled with an unmatched willingness to enter into conversations with anyone about the subject (a trait that sets him apart from other peers who pursue the opposite approach). However, I digress. The inclusion of the article in this collection isn’t so much about the specifics of the points raised by Stephen, rather the ripples/waves of discussion and discourse this initial piece triggered. The comments boxes alone under Stephen’s article are required reading, if nothing more than to understand the classic polar dynamics of this fascinating field. Also check out Simon Rogers’ own responses and a subsequent discussion triggered by Chad Skelton (round 1, round 2). For what its worth I think several of Stephen’s points are legitimate but also find Tableau 8 has some great features and continues to be an essential tool in the visualisation designer’s armoury. Ouch, this fence really hurts…
Snow Fall. Right, I feel better now I got that out of the way. Officially this landmark project arrived in December so falls between the jurisdiction cracks of this collection and my last one. However, rather than adding an unnecessary extra grain of sand to the Sahara quantities of coverage this has received, I will focus instead on its broader theme: digital storytelling. This has unquestionably been the year of ‘storytelling’ as the most discussed topic and (mis-)used term, with a lot of interesting discourse and attempts at definitions spilling out of every corner of the subject field (notably here, here, here and all articles here). The great success of Tapestry conference in February was a sign of the interest in this concept but, perhaps significantly, it still remains a somewhat elusive concept, particularly in its application to data visualisation. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next six months – watch this space. Going back to the influence of Snow Fall, there was a real ripple-effect of emulators and other worthy envelope pushers (yes, I did just use that phrase), here are just some of them: Guardian Firestorm, NZZ Fukushima, Hollow Documentary and WaPo Swing of Beauty.
This one has quite a straightforward reason for its inclusion: I just thought it was a thoroughly super piece of work. It is a short film that unpicks the misconceptions people have about the true extent of wealth inequality in the US. It’s creator remains something of a mystery (it’s no ‘Murder She Wrote’ plot, admittedly) but I hope he or she is aware of the great reception this has had right across the field.
This isn’t as biased and self-indulgent a choice as it may seem. The data visualisation census I coordinated earlier in the year felt like a great success with over 1500 participants sharing basic details about themselves and their involvement/interest in the field. The inclusion of this event in the top ten is as much a personal thanks to all who took part and all who spread the word. Frustratingly, I’ve not had time myself to dive into the data as yet but it really is there to serve the field and for everyone and anyone to utilise as they wish. If nothing else, it gives us a snapshot baseline from which to see the future growth and expansion (hopefully!) and also to look at the demographics of the field, speaking of which…
One of the main initial takeaways from the census related to the balance of gender ‘participation’ (practitioners, bloggers, designers, speakers etc.) in data visualisation. It is something that has been discussed before, indeed I posted about it last year, however, 2013 seems to have stirred a renewed energy to try and shift the imbalance away from the apparent 3:1 men:women ratio. At the moment this ‘energy’ would be best described as individuals trying to affect change at a ‘grass-roots’ level. Moritz Stefaner was one such person who helped to shine a light on the lack of gender balance amongst speakers at conference events, where the visibility of women practitioners and thought-leaders is a particular issue for organisers to address. Hopefully the more analysis, discussion and awareness we raise about this issue the healthier and more accessible the field will be in years to come.
This is something that I’ve raised before in a previous collection but there definitely seems to have been a constant flow of interesting job opportunities emerging during the first 6 months of the year. This, of course, can only be a good sign in terms of the field’s growth and penetration into everyday business. Aside from Lynn Cherny’s super useful ‘Data Vis Jobs‘ board, there were many other opportunities flying around. Most of these will now have closed and probably filled but some of the headline roles have included: Guardian US Interactive Journalist, Interactive Journalist at the FT, Head of Audience Data and Analytics at the BBC, jobs at Time Warner, short-term projects at World Bank, Data Visualization Engineer at Nordstrom, Data Visualization Engineer at New York Times, Data Scientist at New York Times, Visualization Coordinator at NCSU Libraries, Data Scientist Job at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sr Infographics & Datavisualization Specialist at NBCU, *Newsroom developer at Boston Globe*
This is a very personal selection and does not really represent a trend or larger-scale highlight of the first 6 months. This article from Oliver Reichenstein has been my favourite so far this year, I’ve read it and re-read it a number of times because it contains is so many valuable thoughts about the importance of ‘learning to see’. I also love the ‘time-remaining’ note on the sidebar which reveals it takes about 26 minutes to read. Make the time to read it.
Here are the other highlights from early 2013 that deserve a part-generous, part-sympathetic round of applause, given they just missed out on the prestigious main list:
Boston Globe – The Boston Globe had a great 2013 with some super work especially their real-time, round the clock data-journalism coverage of the Boston Bombings and subsequent manhunt.
OpenVis Conference – I wasn’t in attendance and so am basing this on anecdotal evidence and reviews but it appears the OpenVis Conference, organised by Boucoup (Boston theme developing here?), was a great success and should be a great one to look out for in 2014.
Impact of Superstorm Sandy – Really liked this work by Derek Watkins and Laura Kurgan, from the Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University: a really elegant interactive visualisation serving as a platform for ongoing investigation into the impact of Superstorm Sandy across the Tri-State region
John Nelson – I know John will be less than happy at a second consecutive special mention 🙂 but he continues to create a stream of great work and articles on his blog.
Stephen Wolfram – My final mention is for the most comprehensive blog post I have seen all year, by Stephen Wolfram, sharing with the world a huge amount of analysis to form ‘Data Science of the Facebook World’
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 June 2013.
Includes static and interactive visualisation examples, infographics and galleries/collections of relevant imagery.
Scientific American | ‘Too Many Children Go Unvaccinated’ A rise in unvaccinated children poses a public health threat
Visualizing.org | Gallery of the Visualizing.org ‘meteorites’ challenge winners and entrants
New York Times | Damien Hirst’s Spot prices, showing the works he has sold and their price ranges by year
Guardian US | ‘The Guardian journalist behind the NSA surveillance stories has been characterised by many news outlets and organisations in recent weeks, but we wanted to find out what his readers had to say about him’
Facebook Stories | Stories of people using Facebook in extraordinary ways: ‘Visualizing the NBA finals conversation on Facebook’
Vimeo | Video titled ‘CUSP: Designing into the Next Decade’ featuring Australian data visualisation designer, Greg More
Excel Charts | Excel dashboard: Using Excel for catchment area analysis
The Wait We Carry | Periscopic’s latest project visualising the wait time before benefits are paid to US veterans
NOAA | Green: vegetation on our planet
Spatial.ly | Mapped: London’s Fire Engine Callouts
If We Assume | Airports of the world
Joshua Katz | ‘Dialect survey maps’ – Dialect maps by Joshua Katz based on data from the 122-question survey conducted by Bert Vaux, Department of Linguistics, University of Cambridge.
On Goals Scored | Just how provincial were Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest?
Hyperakt | Graphic for ‘Corriere della Sera’ – Searching for Peace in Old Age
New York Times | Housing’s Rise and Fall in 20 Cities
Twitter Blog | The topography of Tweets
Inequality | The second project launched by Periscopic, partnering with the Economic Policy Institute to create an interactive experience about inequality
Visualizing Buffy (season 1) | Never watched it so can’t verify the content, but like the design!
The emphasis on these items is that they are less about visualisation images and are more article-focused, so includes discussion, discourse and interviews
Rawkes | ‘Vizcities Dev Diary #2: London underground in 3D, Leap motion, funding and more!’
Source | Boston Globe’s Gabriel Florit on responsive visualisation (essentially his OpenVis Conf talk)
Researching Social Media | What do data visualisations ‘want’?
Inventing Interactive | Remembering Quokka: one of the most innovative web design agencies from the late 90s early 00s who were ahead of their time
bost.ocks | An article of great depth from Mike, on which his Eyeo talk was based, discussing examples: ‘a powerful medium of communication that is capable of expressing big ideas with immediate impact’.
Sports Performance & Tech | June’s edition of ‘Sports Performance & Tech’ magazine, includes piece about Hawkeye data
Infodez | Interview: Cole Nussbaumer on Google, what businesses need and what’s hard to unlearn
FILWD | Great article from Enrico discussing ‘Smart Visualization Annotation’
Civic | Review of Eyeo festival around the theme of ‘respecting the data’
FlowingData | What the Sexes Want, in Speed Dating
Robert Hempsall | ‘I’m not a mathematician – I’m a man trying to buy some breakfast’
Business Insider | A moderate take on the infographics boom… ’11 Reasons Infographics Are Poison And Should Never Be Used On The Internet Again’
Content Marketing Institute | …by contrast, ‘The Future of Visual Content: 6 Predictions About Infographics’
Quoi | ‘The Art Market for Dummies’
Visual.ly | Building Effective Color Scales
Sheila Robinson | Is education (finally) joining the dataviz movement?
Sandra Rendgen | The forgotten maps of Minard
Nature | Data visualization: ambiguity as a fellow traveler
Independent | Are Mapbox and OpenStreetMap’s personalised maps the future of cartography?
New York Times | Article about ‘Data-Driven Aesthetics’ by Mark Hansen
These links cover presentations, tutorials, learning opportunities, case-studies, how-tos etc.
Processing.org | A short introduction to the Processing software and projects from the community, including details of the Processing 2.0 release.
Eric Klotz | Introducing a side project of Eric to organize and categorize data visualization books that have been published in the past 15 years
UX Blog | “I don’t know the real way to make a radial chart. But here’s how you can make (fake) one with Excel and the GIMP.”
Nanocubes | Nanocubes: Fast Visualization of Large Spatiotemporal Datasets
Visual Loop | Keep an eye out for Tiago’s weekly round up data visualisation news (probably better than this monthly round up!)
SimonleonSense | …the same with Miguel’s ‘Weekly Wisdom’ roundup
Slideshare | Giorgia Lupi’s Eyeo festival slide deck
Datavisualization.ch | Process narrative: ‘How We Visualized Meteorite Impacts’
Etcetera | Lena Groeger’s collection of ‘Data and Visualization Resources’
OpenVisConf | Must watch: The OpenVis Conf 2013 collection of talk videos
ProPublica | From December 2012… ‘New Year’s Resolution: Learn to Code’
Includes announcements within the field, brand new sites, new (to me) sites, new books and generally interesting developments.
Visual Loop | Useful collection of the calendar of events around the subject of data visualisation for the remainder of 2013.
Terrapinn | Interesting event: Europe’s Customer Festival (including Big Data World) takes place 16/17 September in London
GraphClick | Useful looking tool ‘GraphClick is a graph digitizer software which allows to automatically retrieve the original (x,y)-data from the image of a scanned graph or from a QuickTime movie.’
Tableau Public | Journalists: Now Tableau Desktop is Free For You
Information is Beautiful Awards | ‘We’re officially excited to declare the 2013 Kantar Information is Beautiful Awards open for entries’
Stamen | Good-looking maps used to be the domain of experts, but no longer – ‘We call it Map Stack. It’s a bit like Instagram for maps.’
Visualized.io | Recommended conference: Visualized.io Berlin – ‘Exploring the evolution of communication at the intersection of data, storytelling and design’
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
FastCo Design | Watch: Apple’s Poetic Statement On Its Design Process
Hollow Documentary | More long form storytelling elegance
Twitter | Favourite hashtags of 2013…
Medium | ‘Mad Men’ Has Another PC Problem: The limits of the show’s analog world
Core77 | Facebooks, literally
I was recently asked to contribute a selection of what I believe to be the five most iconic visualisations of the past 10 years for an article on FastCo Labs. The article has now been published and there are some really interesting other selections on there from Robert Kosara and Matt Stiles to make up a top 10 list.
I thought I’d share my personal choices and reasoning for their inclusion. Just to be clear, these are choices for iconic visualisations not necessarily the ones I think are the best of the last 10 years.
1) Hint FM: Wind Map – If it is not already iconic, it surely will be seen as being in due course. A wonderfully elegant and transfixing portrayal of wind, aside from being widely celebrated across the field it also became the go-to tool during the severe wind events that struck the US during 2012, elevating it beyond *just* being a beautiful design into an actual utility that people turned to, learned from and discussed.
2) New York Times: Movie box office receipts – A genuinely divisive piece when published in 2008 and still being debated today, this movie box office takings ‘stream graph’ won the Peter Sullivan best graphic of 2008 at the prestigious Malofiej awards. It offers so much potential for analysis and discourse about the value and impact of visualisation, with its enigmatic and (certainly back then) novel form enchanting as many as it repelled.
3) Jess Bachman: Death and Taxes – One of the most famous infographics of recent years, the designer Jess Bachman takes time every year to research update this visual account of how US tax dollars are spent.
4) Hans Rosling: Gapminder – This multi-variable motion chart tool was demonstrated by Hans Rosling in his now-famous TEDTalk about debunking myths of the developing world. Whilst the talk was clearly enhanced by the humorous style of Rosling, this portrayal of data captivated the audience and viewer alike, presenting, what was to many, an exciting and new approach to visualising data. It has gained iconic status through its influence in the contemporary popularity and exposure of the subject.
5) Martin Wattenberg: Map of the Market – A second mention for Martin, the map of the market was one of the first web-based visualisations. Launched in 1998 it is a ‘tree map’ view of the stock market and is one of the best examples of a visualisation application that has become entirely accepted and embedded into daily use by a large, general audience. It is now pretty much established as the iconic and standard single-view portrayal of market financial data.
There has been much discussion this past couple of days about John Burn-Murdoch’s article in the Guardian ‘Why you should never trust a visualisation‘ which was itself a response to an earlier article by Pete Warden that proposed ‘Why you should never trust a data scientist‘.
The gist of the John’s piece (for clarity, his title isn’t being sensationalist rather just copying the original’s wording structure for effect) is expressed in this passage:
Data presented in any medium is a powerful tool and must be used responsibly, but it is when information is expressed visually that the risks are highest.
However, it is also a balanced argument, with acknowledgements that the attributes of data visualisation that create potential ‘risks’ in terms of mis-representation or mis-interpretation are also conversely its great strength. The points that John makes about the importance of including sources, workings/treatments applied to data, assumptions and caveats is entirely right and should be the default practice for any serious designer. I’m a great believer in the idea of ‘good enough’ being a suitable threshold in many situations. The pursuit of perfection is idealistic and also likely to result in inertia, yet if we have accepted any shortcomings in our data or understanding we should make this clear to our audiences.
My overall response to this latter article, shared by a few I’ve seen discussing this issue, is that in isolation it is a legitimate perspectives to take. However, there is fundamentally a wider issue to contemplate: should you trust a newspaper? should you trust a research paper? should you trust any form of communication? Data visualisation is a form of communication, one that is exposed to the same potential weaknesses, biases, prejudices and subjectivity of its creator as any other form might be. This bias might be particularly overt or more subtle and subconscious but it still exists.
Every visualisation takes a ‘stance’ of some nature. The popular concept of seeing visualisation as being akin to taking a photograph of data implies an angle, a framing and interrogation of a subject matter, context that is included and wider context that is not. Other views of the same subject matter are possible but one makes a specific judgment about their own choice of angle, be it provocative and biased, neutral and detached, big picture or localised snapshot.
Similarly, data visualisation in its role as a window to facilitate interpretation about a subject also potentially exposes an audiences’ own pre-conditioned opinions and personal takes on a subject matter. This is not just data visualisation’s problem it is ‘communication’s problem as a whole, otherwise why would this lot exist?
To provide a somewhat tangental illustration of the issues with imperfections in written or visual communication and its interpretation, I am reminded of this hugely discussed controversial photograph, one that has been interpreted across the entire spectrum of views (here, here, here and here, for example).
I’ve included below a short video from Andy Cotgreave, a name I’m sure most of you will recognise from Tableau. Andy has put together a neat little response to one aspect of John’s argument he felt was missing including a short simple demo to support his point.
Jermain and Michael are co-founders of a data visualisation project called ‘Moviegalaxies‘, “a place to discover the social graph in movies”. I recall I saw an early version of this project last year but it seems that the depth of movies now available has grown significantly.
The project essentially enables you to search through a catalogue of (currently) 775 movies and explore a network graph of the characters and their relationships within each film. As the founders describe, “beyond the story and actors of a movie, the interactions and relationships among actors play an important role in how movies are perceived.”
Once you select a movie you can browse through the characters, with a fish-eye feature zooming in on your current view. You can select and isolate an individual character and see the specific connections.
It is particularly interesting to explore movies that you already have a familiarity with in terms of structure. For example, compare the parrallel story structure of Babel with the multi-character epic Casino.
As the developers express this experiment is driven by a mixture of uncertainty and curiosity and I love that they have added a ‘wish list‘ feature to the site to collate ideas for future developments. This approach would be great if it was incorporated into many more self-initiated projects like this.
The contents of this post are now published on the interactive Resources page
Thanks to Rob Rolleston for sharing this video with me. It came up through some analysis of the Hint FM Wind Map and, as you can see for yourself, it provides a mesmerising ambient display of local wind patterns, making the invisible visible.
Commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission, Windswept is a wind-driven kinetic façade consisting of 612 freely-rotating directional arrows creating a large-scale observational instrument that reveals the complex interactions between the wind and the building. The wind arrows serve as discrete data points indicating the direction of local flow within the larger phenomenon.
Many thanks to Luis van den Ende from Submarine Channel for sending me details of this fascinating interactive documentary titled ‘Unspeak‘ that combines film, data visualisation, technology and design to investigate the issue of language that deliberately manipulates public opinion.
The subject matter is based on British journalist Steven Poole´s book ‘Unspeak‘ about a form of coded language that is used by politicians, corporates and the media to manipulate public opinion: terms like Oil Spill, Climate Change, File Sharing, Erectile Dysfunction, and Clean Coal:
This project aims to kickstart the conversation, educate and empower audiences, and make the prevalence of Unspeak framing visible to the public. People will not be taken in for a moment by the power of deceptive language if we actually stop to think about it. Once you tune in to the wealth of daily Unspeak talk, you’ll start seeing and hearing it everywhere. And then, perhaps, we can fight back.
The trailer provides an alternative introduction:
Within the site you have several elements, from the glossary of terms and their explanations and a series of 6 short films with each episode covering a different theme: such as natural disasters, financial crisis and political rhetoric.
You then can explore the prevalence and usage of the growing bank of Unspeak terms, looking at the mentions of each term of twitter over time, by geography and within networks, with options to break down the results by gender, sentiment and age.
Everyone is invited and encouraged to record mentions of the usage of ‘Unspeak’ words or contribute new ones, as well as help increase the awareness of this growing vocabulary of manipulation: “The more people contribute new words, the better we can fight back“.
The site offers detailed data on London, Paris and Berlin based around an explorable 3D city map which continually feeds information from open sources such as social media accounts like Twitter or Instagram as well as the overall infrastructure of subway activity, traffic light and public toilet locations.
The result is an interactive real-time map of European cities, almost a digital terrain layer of some of the invisible activities to provide a whole new sense of the life of a city. The design and interactivity is very slick with a really useful tutorial feature to talk you through the key elements of the site’s functions and information.
Earlier today I came across a website that contained some incredibly intriguing data. The website is the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the particular page of interest is a collection of records for the 500 ‘Death Row’ offenders who have been executed.
Each record details the offender, their demographics, a summary of the incident for which they were convicted and – most compelling of all perhaps – the final words uttered in their last statement.
Over the past couple of hours I’ve been wrestling with the website to try pull out all the data into a nice, neat workable format. I’ve partly succeeded and partly failed. I’ve been using Google Docs and a combination of the ImportHTML and ImportXML functions. They work quite well but have limitations particularly with inconsistently structured websites and also because you can only use x amount of each function in a single spreadsheet).
I have managed at least to pull out all the ‘Last statement’ data. It took me longer than I intended because I found myself reading them too much. The data I’ve temporarily given up on trying to extract is the Offender Information, providing deeper details about the individuals and their crimes. I gave up because many records only exist as uploaded .jpg image files which makes it a non-starter frankly.
Anyway, this isn’t just for me, I was really interested in the data and wanted the opportunity to practice working with scraping data from websites for an upcoming tutorial. I have shared the current version of the Google Spreadsheet, it is open to the public. You can find it by clicking on the image below.
I’m not sure when/if I’ll get time to work on any designs with this, as much as I’d love to, but please do share anything that you work on (as well as any additional data you suck out of the site).